Are we ready for a bit of love in our lives…?
Barbara Hulanicki & Stephen Fitz-Simon - co-founder’s of Biba… she was design, he was business.
Barbara first caught sight of Fitz at a party she & her flatmates were throwing in 1960.
‘The minute I saw him it was as I had hoped it would be…. I said to myself “there’s trouble, but he’s the one for me.” That party was the last I saw of Fitz for a couple of very painful years.’
‘The following time, he came to my apartment as he’d heard it was for sale and was shortly getting married. He was very persuasive and we sat down and talked about how quickly I could move out. All I could feel was envy that he was making all these plans for someone else. I even threw in my fridge for free…’
I didn’t see him again until a Christmas party. He was there with his fiancée. I was madly in love with him.’
‘We got on like a house on fire and never seemed to stop laughing together. A few weeks later he asked me to dinner and it was the beginning of a short and stormy romance.’
‘It just felt right emotionally but I wasn’t sure I could cope with this confusing romance and so, decided to go to New York.
The week before I left, we went down to Brighton for Fitz to meet my mother. Fitz always said that he really fell in love with me then…’
Fitz proposed to Barbara that afternoon but she turned him down & continued with her plan to go to America.
On the boat as the ship sailed away, she watched Fitz on the docks getting smaller and smaller. ‘I nearly jumped overboard to swim back to shore. Why was I going the wrong way?’
Not too far into the voyage, she started missing Fitz terribly and used the ship’s radio room to call him. ‘He still loved me and begged me to get the plane home as soon and I arrived.’
Fitz had a marriage licence ready and when she got back he was waiting for her at the airport.
They were married in November 1961. Their friends and family were there and later divulged that they had assumed it was a shotgun wedding as they were doing it so quickly… their son wasn’t born for another 6 years!
‘Being with Fitz was completely different, he didn’t make me feel vulnerable. He made me feel rational in any emotional situation. Before, I couldn’t master confidence, but with Fitz I could get on with my work, to him I was always right and no one should ever undermine my judgement.’
Barbara was working at her home studio as a freelance designer in Fashion Illustration, working for all the big magazine and brands (this is the time before photography and so illustration was very important to the industry.) She would go out for a night on the town as Fitz was just coming home from a day working as an account executive in advertising.
In an effort to do something together that united them, they decided to design some items and sell them by post.
Feeling excited and giddy at their new prospects, Biba was launched as something that was designed for all the real people on the street’s of London.
After 3 attempts and not many orders, the pair were getting nervous about their new venture. But then Barbara was asked by the Daily Mirror to meet the fashion editor, who had noticed their mail order boutique. For this she designed the Gingham Dress and its feature lead to the beginning of their real successes!
Picking up the post at the post office, with their first possible orders, was exciting. Barbara sat in the car as Fitz collected them, taking longer than usual. When he finally emerged, there was a huge grin across his face and a large sack of orders dragging behind him. ‘I ran to help him and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.’ The next morning, they went back to the post office to see if there were any more, only to find Fitz emerging again with an even bigger grin from ear to ear and an even bigger sack of order. ‘I leaped on him to hug him as he said ‘hold on there’s another sack still at the post office!!’’
A snippet from our conversations with Barbara about Fitz in 2019:
“Fitz and I worked very closely on Biba and after this particular incident he said he would never interfere with my messages again….!
I kept thinking about these long suede boots - there were no boots in London in that period. I keep talking to him about them & he would say ‘no’ to more shoes as we had odd pairs washing around in stockroom from some we had done recently.
Eventually he said ‘ok let’s do 50 or 60 pairs,’ I think just to keep me quiet!
They sold out in a day!
We then sold 70,000 pairs in the end & we had daily deliveries of every colour.
Soon the word got around and there were lines of girls forming daily out the front of our shop waiting for next delivery.
Fitz was laughing so much and said he would never interfere with my messages from somewhere up above ever again!” - Barbara Hulanicki, 2019.
At one point, Biba was the 2nd biggest tourist destination in England, behind The Tower of London (where all the Kings & Queen's used to live for centuries...)
Barbara always remained the head designer, even as Biba grew to sell millions of items.
Fitz constantly negotiated pricing, manufacturing and won amazing contracts for their brand, such as launching Biba Cosmetics in the USA with the biggest and best reps in America – something that they were told was close to impossible.
They worked so closely together, always supporting and encouraging each other to achieve their dreams. Together, the grew Biba into an empire, a wonderland and something that will mark the history books for a long time to come!
Barbara’s and Fitz’s story is so beautiful, a true power couple and dream-team.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post all about the love and bond between these two co-founders!
Next up, we’ll be heading into the next phase of Biba in 1965 & 1966:
‘Sometimes Mick Jagger would come in with his girlfriend Chrissie. As he was waiting for her, he’d sit on the till, talking to Fitz… so many famous people came in!’
Stay tuned for more…
Our exerts have been taken from Barbara’s autobiography ‘From A to Biba,’ which we would highly recommend reading, as well as conversations with Barbara in 2019!
You can be purchase it online here: www.booktopia.com.au/from-a-to-biba-barbara-hulanicki/book/9781851779635.html