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Discovering Barbara Hulanicki: Miami Beach's Fashion Icon Unveiled

Born in Poland, raised in England, and living on Miami Beach since 1987 after accepting an invitation from Rolling Stone Ron Wood to design his club, Woody’s on the Beach, Barbara Hulanicki is a fashion and design icon. She was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for Services to Fashion in the 2012 Queen’s New Year Honors and is soon to receive accolades from Miami Beach.

Barbara Hulanicki

Barbara began her career in fashion in the early 1960s, working as a freelance fashion illustrator, covering all the important collections for major publications of the day, including Women’s Wear Daily, British Vogue, The Times, The Observer, and The Sunday Times.

In 1964, she founded BIBA with her late husband, Stephen Fitz-Simon. It began as a clothing mail order business. The first 'brick and mortar' store opened in September 1964, on the heels of Biba's postal boutique's first significant success—a pink gingham dress Barbara designed with a hole cut out of the back of the neck and a matching triangular kerchief. Brigitte Bardot had worn a similar dress, so it had immediate celebrity appeal. The Daily Mirror featured the dress for sale in an article, and Barbara received a remarkable 17,000 orders.

Model wearing Barbara Hulanicki design in front of first BIBA store on Abington Road, London

Barbara’s Biba revolutionized the London fashion scene, being the first to offer sensational clothes at low prices. BIBA took off like a rocket and quickly grew with a series of boutiques every two years until moving to an expansive space affectionately called Big Biba. The seven-story store had an Art Deco facade and an interior reminiscent of the Golden Age of Hollywood. With the opening of this larger space, Barbara realized her vision to create and experience a 'total look,' one that included clothing for men, women, and children, and branded Biba for the home. BIBA became the first fashion lifestyle brand.

Art Deco styled counter at Big BIBA

Barbara never exhibited anything in shop windows, believing instead that customers would be intrigued and seduced to enter the shop by a captivating store interior seen and heard from outside because they also played loud pop music that leaked out onto the street. Shopping was immediately transformed into a social event.

Biba, with its cool vibe, also became an artist hangout. Members of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were regulars, along with David Bowie and Freddie Mercury. Cher, Julie Christie, and Mia Farrow all shopped at BIBA, and Yoko Ono once stopped to borrow a dress that she later cut up in a performance piece. Many other culture-makers living in or visiting London visited BIBA during the 1960s and early 1970s. Yves Saint Laurent always made BIBA his first stop when visiting London. Fellow fashion icons Twiggy, Anna Wintour, and Grace Coddington all worked for Barbara.

Twiggy Wearing Fairy Costume, image by Barbara Hulanicki from an exhibition at The Betsy Hotel in 2020, called London 1986, Après BIBA. Image used with permission of the artist

Twiggy in the Rainbow Room at Big BIBA

Without a doubt, the BIBA story is the stuff of Hollywood.

In 1987, Hulanicki arrived in Miami Beach, where she immersed herself in and reimagined the city’s Art Deco District, becoming the most influential hotel designer of South Beach’s renaissance, designing hotels like The Marlin Hotel, The Leslie, The Cardozo, The Kent, and The Cavalier.

The Marlin Hotel in Miami Beach

Marlin Hotel lobby designed by Barbara Hulanicki

Hulanicki left her mark on South Beach and won an award from the Miami Design Preservation League for her work on the Marlin Hotel. It is her work on the Marlin, in particular, that is still considered the real kick-off to the revitalization of South Beach. Mayor Dan Gelber will be recognizing her integral role with a Key to the City.

Marlin Hotel lobby designed by Barbara Hulanicki

In addition to the Biba legacy, Hulanicki has decades of fashion photography, interior and exterior design work, a makeup line, a memoir, and much more under her name. The Betsy Hotel has recently hosted two exhibitions of her work—one of her seldom-seen photographs and the other of her artist sketches, honoring her illustration talents that started her career.

By ML Staff. Images courtesy of Barbara Hulanicki


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