Biba’s getting bigger

1960s, anello and davide, art nouveau, barbara hulanicki, Barbara Hulanicki, biba, chelsea cobbler, Deco Inspired, Inspirational Images, interior design, interiors, James Fox, kensington high street, Liz Smith, Mensday, menswear, observer magazine, Steve Hiett, steven hiett
Lampshade, 12gn. Small satin cushions, 16s. 11d. each; large, 27s. 11d. Tablecloth, 70in. diameter, 5gn. Ostrich feathers, 18s. each. Satin material, 36in. wide, 9s. 11d. a yd.; thick felt, 54in. wide, 53s. 6d. a yd ; thin felt, 70-72 in. wide, 27s. 6d. a yd. Fringing : plain cotton, 5s. 6d. a yd ; in Biba colours, 8s. 9d. a yd. Glass goblets, 21s. 6d. each. Steak knife, steak fork, dessert knife, 33s. 6d. each; soup spoon, dessert spoon, 37s. 6d. each; bread knife, £2 10s.; carving set, 1Ogn. Soup cup, 14s. 6d. ; egg cup, 3s. 9d.; 7-inch plate, 4s. 9d.; 81-inch plate, 7s. 6d.; 10-inch plate, 9s. 6d. Satin night-dress, £3 15s. 6d. Mock ivory bead necklace, 34s.; rings, 1s. 3d. each.

Now there’s hardware and haberdashery, furnishings and fabrics, cosmetics and mens-wear, all carrying the Biba label. Their brave transition from dolly boutique to department store was made last week when Biba opened in Kensington High Street. Although a baby store compared with neighbouring Barker’s, Biba does boast marble floors, a carved gallery from the old St Paul’s school, and a commissionaire at the huge glass doors.

Faithful customers can still find among the familiar palm fronds clothes to wear themselves or put on their children, but everything is on a much bigger scale. Colour-matched underwear and tights are on sale in a special conservatory-style department, and there’s a complete range of Biba makeup and cosmetics, and many more accessories.

But what’s really new, are the clothes for men, and the things for the house.

There’s nothing simple or austere about a Biba home life. The girl whose idea of some-thing comfortable to wear around the house is a slinky satin dress chooses a plush back-ground and hardware that’s softly elegant. Cutlery is rich-looking in gilt and mother of pearl, or silver and ebony. China is white and gold, glasses are chunky goblets. Specially printed wallpapers and furnishing fabrics, plain satins, felts, braids and trimmings, have carefully matched emulsion paints, lamp-shades and cushions, all in a range of 15 colours. Biba are selling the raw materials so that you can make what you want of them. The clue to their own style is Art Nouveau, but the way you choose to use them will be your own.

Biba men’s clothes are worn in these pictures by James Fox, who can currently be seen in ‘Isadora’ and whose new film, ‘Performance’, in which he co-stars with Mick Jagger, comes out next month.

Mr Fox is long and slender and can have little problem kitting himself out elegantly, but the clothes he wears here, plus others by Biba in velvets and tweeds, all come in a size range bigger than most. So fatter men can have fun with clothes too, and at a reasonable price.

By Liz Smith.

Photographed by Steve Hiett.

Scanned from The Observer Magazine, 21st September 1969.

Biba 3 is definitely the Biba I’m most captivated by, I think possibly because it was edged out so quickly by the much bigger (and more Deco) Big Biba and yet was, I think, the perfect encapsulation of the aesthetic and the first time the ‘department store’ ideal was manifested. Basically, I wish there were more photos so I do try and scan them when I find them! It’s also nice to see the menswear getting a bit of attention for once.

Pure wool herringbene tweed trousers cut to curve over the foot 6gn.; matching buttoned jerkin, £5 10s. Pure silk shirt and tie, 6gn. Art Nouveau statue, £7 10s.; necklace, 34s.; veiling, 2s. a yd. Marbled patent shoes, 12gn., from the Chelsea Cobbler, 33 Sackville Street, W1. Vanilla coloured Imperial Russian cigarettes by Sobranie, 11s. 3d. for 25. Carved ivory cigar holder, £21 ; ivory chess men, part of a set, £80; both from W. Barrett, 9 Old Bond Street, W1.
White worsted wool jacket with safari pockets and belt, 15gn.; matching trousers shaped over the foot, 8gn. Brown and cream printed rayon shirt, 5gn.; matching tie, 39s. 6d. Co-respondent shoes, £5 15s. from Anello & Davide, 30 Drury Lane, London, WC2. Teacup, 5s. 6d.; saucer, 3s. 3d.,2) All Biba prices here are approximate.

One Hundred Years of The Liberty Look

1970s, art nouveau, Bevis Hillier, cosmopolitan, Illustrations, Inspirational Images, liberty, liberty's, Sumiko

(Illustrating an article on Liberty and their centenary by Bevis Hillier)

Illustration by Sumiko.

Scanned from Cosmopolitan, June 1975.

Barbara Hulanicki: Art Deco W14

art deco, art nouveau, barbara hulanicki, biba, interior design, James Mortimer, seventies fashion, Vogue
A section of the studio. Beneath the gallery one discovers a sink, kettle. cooker below a thirties’ Grecian frieze. Art Deco chairs in peach moquette. Screen, with beaded shawl. purple plastic  grapes behind a delicate nasturtium-leaf lamp hung with beaded fringe
Barbara Hulanicki at home in one cavernous studio which she found three years ago and filled with Art Deco from floor to ceiling. Walls, ceiling, stairs, all painted a rich matt brown, merge into the shadowy interior; angles and lines are softened and blurred. Colours, not walls, mark out living areas, a different shade for each section of space. Light is filtered through the brown-tinted glass of the high, patterned perpendicular window and a long fanlight in the roof. A brown spiral staircase, leafy with plastic twisting plants, leads to a long gallery which forms the dressing-rooms. Everywhere, an endlessly intricate arrangement of colour, pattern, space; a deep, dark brown jungle of the ornamental, the exotic, the glittering.

Photos by James Mortimer. Vogue, October 1975.
The dressing-room. Shades of peach and deepest brown, Creamy lighting from bulbs set behind opaque glass. Peach mirrors hung with beads, the dressing table, a darker shade of smoked peach, made up of tiny individual drawers. Stool topped with smoked peach glass.
The bath, a riot of peach and plastic flowers. Ornate brass taps, Art Deco screen. Brilliant blue glass, candlesticks and pearly plastic grapes.
Barbara Hulanicki in the sitting-room, the window open to reveal a jungle of climbing plants outside. In the background, a collection of Art Deco glass below the enormous mirror, at least six feet in diameter. Everywhere lamps, small, fringed or mushroom-topped on long, slender stems: everywhere figures, ferns, flowers. In foreground, a set of black/silver/turquoise vases and modelled head on decorated brass tray and glass-sided table: replica of a twenties’ cigarette girl, now bearing a tray of jewellery.
Looking down from the gallery into the studio, arranged into its separate “rooms”
The bed, above, hung with shawls, scattered with sequinned brocaded cushions. Barbara Hulanicki reflected in the bedside mirror on the writing desk and in the centre of the mirrored bed-head. On the right, a peach mirror flex set of shelves, with photographs, figures, eight Art Deco plastic handbags.

Gustav Adolf Mossa: Naughty but Nice

art, art nouveau, gustav adolf mossa

I don’t often do art-related posts, but I realised I had never shared my passion for the work of Gustav Adolf Mossa with you all. A few years ago I was on holiday in Nice and took a trip to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which I would highly recommend if you are ever visiting.

I was enjoying myself, I usually do, but had just been sweetened to death by a roomful of sickly, twee watercolours by someone I can’t remember (why on earth would I?). I swiftly turned a corner, and entered a new room. Everything stopped still. My thought process was something like “these are very beautiful … these are very intricate … I’m going to look closer … oh my word, these are a bit dark … oh wow, these are utterly terrifyingly twisted and even more beautiful for it”. I had entered the world of Gustav Adolf Mossa.

Born in 1883 in Nice, Mossa was the son of Alexis Mossa – an accomplished artist in his own right, and trained at l’École des Arts Décoratifs de Nice. Mossa was inspired by the Symbolist movement, and clearly by the ongoing Art Nouveau style of the time. Until he abandoned his distinctive symbolist style in 1911, in favour of more primitive Flemish-style works, he created some of the most disturbing and intricate paintings I have ever seen.

There’s something rather deliciously twisted about them, possibly the reason he hid them from public view until his death in 1971. They invite study and, as a woman, questions about their subject matter. Are the women in his works femme fatales? Are they figures of evil or is Mossa trying to show their potential strength in his imposing, vampish and often gory depictions. I see them as the work of someone who is captivated, and possibly a little terrified, of them, rather than that of a misogynist (which is something of which he has often been accused).

I’m also not averse to contemplating the fact that many women actually are as dark and demonic as some men portray them. I think we all have it within us, but our fear of our dark side makes us instinctively defensive against male depictions of women in this way. If Mossa had been a woman, would we look upon his work more favourably?

Away from that, they are simply inspirational in their colour, detail and shapes. Like nothing I’ve ever seen before, almost cartoon-like in comparison to many artists of the Belle Epoque but greater in detail than any I’ve seen before or since. I’m not sure I actually want to inhabit the paintings in terms of the situations, but if life could be as beautiful, rich and soulful as a Mossa painting, then I’d be very happy.

576 Pages of Heaven: Lifestyle Illustrations of the Sixties

1960s, art deco, art nouveau, book reviews, Honey Magazine, Illustrations, petticoat magazine, psychedelia

This may, at first, look like the laziest book review in the world. I can be a lazy person, tis true, but I couldn’t really think of a better way to review such an extraordinary book. It needs to be possessed, to be pored over, to be appreciated en masse and to be studied in fine detail.

Lifestyle Illustrations of the ’60s by Rian Hughes is one man’s personal project to bring those unsung illustrators of the period to the attention of the wider world. If you’re anything like me, they are a source of great fascination and inspiration when you flick through a vintage copy of Honey or Petticoat. And if you were reading Womans Own et al back in the day, they would certainly have inspired daydreams from their fleeting representations of the magazine’s romantic short stories. They are often small in size, but incredible in skill, style and social comment. The timeline element of the book also allows you to see the development of social aspirations, fashion styles, illustration styles and inspirations (the clear references to art deco and art nouveau styles) and attitudes to morals and relationships.

When I find them in the magazines, I try to remember to scan them in. But I’m a bit forgetful, so this doesn’t always happen. When I first laid my eyes and hands on this book, it was like heaven. Someone else has gone to the trouble of scanning them in, cleaning them up and collating them by date and crediting the artist where possible. Consequently, it feels a bit weird to scan in pages and individual illustrations to illustrate my review. Firstly, there are just way too many and my scanner is a bit fiddly (coupled with a big heavy book, whose spine I’d rather not break just yet). Secondly, because I want you to go out and get a copy yourselves. Words and scans can’t really demonstrate what it’s like to flick through such a book. Each page inspires a cry of ‘ooooh, pretty’. Well, that’s my reaction anyway. Scans wouldn’t do it justice.

So I decided to sit and flick and take photographs of the most ‘ooh’-inspiring pages. Of course I had to give up after about 20 photos because I realised I would end up photographing the entire thing. But here are the collated images, just casually snapped so you get some feeling of what it’s like. Unsurprisingly, I’m most taken with the later period with the psychedelic, art deco and art nouveau influences, but I’ve tried to show you a cross-section of the entire book.

Now all they need is to put on an exhibition. There’s something lovely about having them all collated into a book, but it can lessen the impact of some solitary works of art. I would dearly love to see them displayed as large prints.