Lisa Mayock: Welcome to Big Biba

If there’s anyone we would trust to guide us through the annals of vintage fashion literature, it’s Lisa Mayock, co-founder of the sadly defunct, cool-girl label Vena Cava and now a Brooklyn-based creative consultant. So we were pretty thrilled when we sent out a call for this column a few months back and Mayock immediately responded with one of her most beloved and referenced books, BIG BIBA: Inside the Most Beautiful Store in the World. The book traces the short life of the 7-story Big Biba department store, which opened in 1973 after the fashion label’s massive success as first a mail-order catalog and then a series of London boutiques. Mayock writes:

“Welcome to Big Biba. This book is the story of the world of Biba and the palatial London store that was its shrine. Big Biba was the most beautiful and luxurious department store in the world. Even though the store was only open from 1973-75, it helped define the youth culture of an entire era. This book is also the ultimate brand-building bible. In my mind, it should be required reading for anyone with their own brand! There is nothing that exists like this today. Big Biba felt authentic, beautiful, and decadent, but not in the way luxury brands or stores are now; it was also creepy and macabre and had a healthy dose of weird. This was a place that made girls feel like 1930’s film stars — and dress like them for really cheap! — but also a glamorous place to buy pet food, kitchen equipment, flowers, and groceries. There were no racks for clothes in the entire store, clothes were in drawers, on shelves, hung on coat racks or — in the case of lingerie — scattered across a giant leopard-print bed.”

“The book is amazing for giving a sense of not only the store experience and the clothes, but also the details: the decor, fixtures, different hangtags, interior signage, copy, and logos. It was one of the first brands to cater to making inexpensive clothes for cool young London girls. Twiggy, Julie Christie, Cher, and Brigitte Bardot were customers — and perhaps they were helped by a young shopgirl named Anna Wintour?”

Top image: “The Rainbow Room restaurant on the 7th floor, which was also a venue for bands like the New York Dolls, the Ronettes, and the Manhattan Transfer.”
“One of the many motifs, in Biba’s quintessential black and gold.”biba_002_2
“Biba had more than 15 logos, used for different product categories, and each of the seven floors of Big Biba had its own typeface. Biba recognized the power of its own branding: One of the most popular parts of the store was the Logo Shop, which had inexpensive items with all different Biba logo motifs: matches, calendars, stationary, playing cards, etc.”biba_013_3
“I’ve been a fan of the Biba aesthetic for a long time before ever seeing this book, actually, and the muted colors and ’30s-meets-’70s silhouettes have always resonated with me. Biba clothes were feminine and cool at the same time which can be a really hard balance to get right. The book was a gift and has just kept on giving.”biba_005_2
“The beautiful Art Deco bookstore on the ground floor. This floor was meant for grab-and-go purchases like records, newspapers, magazines and makeup. Biba had its own cosmetics line and was the first store to let customers try on makeup before buying it. Apparently Freddie Mercury used to come in to put on makeup in the store before a big night out.”
“The back of a cash register. The surfaces were covered in big bevelled mirrors to disguise the computerized Point of Sale system — the first one to be used in Britain. In 1973, you can only imagine the computer components must have been gigantic.”
“The Biba grocery….”
“…and the world’s most glamorous dog food display case.”biba_010_2 biba_011_2
“The clothes were really, really inexpensive; Biba was kind of a progenitor of fast fashion. But now these pieces are total collectors’ items. I saw this jacket a few months back on Ebay for 775 pounds.”biba_012_2
“The maternity section with child-size toadstools. Just so weird.”biba_014_2
“An interior shot of the giant Egypt-themed communal dressing room.”biba_015_2
“A view of the cafe on the children’s floor, which also had six other sections including a giant dollhouse, a Wild West saloon, a castle (with an actual moat) and a walk-in kennel.”biba_016_3
“The world’s largest turntable in the children’s department.”biba_016_4
“A Peter Rabbit–branded book display.”
“My favorite picture of Biba mastermind Barbara Hulanicki. Here she is backlit on the store roof garden, famous for its flamingoes.”