The London Look, Biba, Bazaar and Beyond

The swinging sixties were high times for London.

Carnaby Street, in the west end of London, was the coolest place to shop and hang out. With its on trend boutiques, it became synonymous with youth culture, supplying t-shirts,hipsters and mini skirts, as well as up to the minute accessories.

The three most influential designers of this era, in my mind, are Ossie Clark, Mary Quant and Barbara Hulanicki of Biba fame.

Barbara was born in 1936 to Polish parents in Palestine. She moved to London in 1948, where she attended art college.

After leaving she began illustrating fashion for the likes of Vogue and Tatler. In 1961 she married Stephen Fitz-Simon, and a few years later they started a mail order company selling clothes.

On the strength of their success, they opened Biba at London in 1964.

The famous Biba boutique was on the Kensington High Street, and was decorated in the opulent art deco style of the 1930’s. Such a beautiful era, I would have loved to have seen the store myself.

Hulanicki sold her own designs, featuring trouser suits, t-shirts with sweetheart necklines and cotton bikinis with matching jackets. Local and overseas visitors would flock to buy the modern designs, and who could blame them! Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithful and David Bowie were all fans.

Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue, got her start in fashion as a Biba employee.

The transition into the ’70’s wasn’t great for Barbara, and Biba closed its doors in 1976. She went on to become a highly successful interior designer in the United States.

Barbara was awarded an OBE this year for services to the fashion industry.

Hulanicki’s contemporary, Mary Quant was a major player in the world of fashion in the ’60’s and still is. Born February 1934 in London, Quant studied at Goldsmith College of the Arts.

She spent several months as a milliner before opening her first boutique “Bazaar” in 1955, located on Kings Road Chelsea. Her avant-garde designs geared to the teenage market were an instant hit.

In 1957 she opened a second store in Knightsbridge and she was on her way to becoming a household name.

Fashion, like the ’60’s was moving fast, and women wanted practicality in their clothes. Quants pieces were perfect for this, and the mini allowed them to feel liberated. Another of her iconic pieces were hot pants.

Her aesthetic was clean and simple, using colour as the focal point. I think it is her love of colour that made her so unique, in fact she went on to write books on the subject.

Boldly striped sweaters, block colour tights, plastic collars, raincoats and boots showed Mary’s love of novelty. She was not afraid to experiment and it worked in her favour. In 1966, she received an OBE, and in 1990 she was inducted into the hall of fame for her contribution to the British fashion Industry.

Both Hulanicki and Quant created highly successful cosmetic lines, a natural progression to compliment the ranges they were designing.

The last, certainly not least, genius in this trilogy is the highly influential Ossie Clark. Raymond Clark, who would later adopt the moniker Ossie, was born 1942 in Liverpool, England.

He was at the forefront of design in the swinging sixties. His leather motorcycle jacket with a large collar and zip on one side is still widely copied today.

Clarks use of jersey, crepe, satin and chiffon was stunning, He loved the female form and was a master cutter.

After he was introduced to Celia Birtwell, they became partners in fashion and life. It was said she was his muse, but mutual friends knew they were more equals. She was responsible for creating beautiful fabric designs that he incorporated into his collections.

Famous for the gypsy dress with handkerchief points, wrap around dresses and maxi coats, he was dubbed by the press as “The King of Kings Road”. Ossies’ 1967 show was the first in the UK to include black models.

To quote Manolo Blahnik, “He created an incredible magic with the body and achieved what fashion should do – produce desire.” Ossie Clark pieces are highly sort after today, and Kate Moss is a fan.

These three innovators paved the way for many young designers and their influence can still be seen today. Just think about the colour blocking that has been popular this year, so Mary Quant.

The floppy felt hats that are everywhere this winter are very Biba, and the diaphanous dresses in so many collections are surely more than a nod to the outrageous Ossie Clark.

So the London Look is resurrected time and time again. Revived and revisited so the next generation can experience what was an amazing time in design and fashion.

Where would we be without mavericks like them, I’d hate to think how boring it all might all be!

CiaoJo Bayley, Fashion Editor The Culture Concept Circle August 2012

1 Comment

  • Robert Wade-Smith says:

    On the money Jo – well said. I’d forgotten Ossie was from Liverpool – such a melting pot of creative & artistic talents.

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