Leopardskin sequins and glitter.

I was a nervous wreck the day Steve Thomas came back from his holiday. I had piles of pencil roughs to show him for the new Biba logos but no idea whether I was on the right track. He wanted to get things going immediately and after sifting through the pile and making some selections he went upstairs with them to Barbara Hulanicki’s office . A very tense  hour passed then Steve came back beaming , Barbara loved them and with a few minor tweaks and alterations we were ready to go ahead and design all the other logos. From then on I was to be totally immersed in Biba and was warned there was much work to be done.   Steve was the only person to discuss the Graphic work with Barbara so I never really got to formally meet her. To be honest, I preferred it that way, any corrections or changes were conveyed through Steve which worked much better. She did come downstairs to see us from time to time to see how we were doing and was very pleasant , and could sneak a cigarette too.  She was never dressed casually , always in total Biba of course with tons of exotic jewellery, I remember the rattling sounds made by her jewellery when she was around. She had the same iconic hairstyle she still has today and favoured a dark blue eyeshadow and liner, [ I bet it was the colour  ‘ thick denim’ ]. We all wore high heels and platforms with varied success manoeuvring around, but Barbara could actually run in them as I saw the times she was around at the Westbourne Park offices and later at the Derry and Toms building.  At that short time in the  Westbourne Park offices she was not around that often, a lot of  her time was spent at the warehouse in Bracknell where all the units for the big store were being assembled, Steve and Tim had to make constant trips there to to oversee the work too. It seemed like an ongoing nightmare for everybody involved.
With the first three designs approved , logos had to be designed for the ground floor which was to have all kinds off accessories , hats, shoes, tights, underwear, jewellery, cosmetics, stationary and music. The second floor , which included Lolita, pregnant mums, children and babies. The third floor, which was men and boys plus a mistress room. The first floor kept the original John Mc Connell Biba logo and the familiar look of the old store with clothes and accessories.

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Second floor logo childrens’ department

logo_pregnentmums

second floor logo for pregnant mums department.

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send floor logo for babies department.

As we proceeded with the work it became obvious to Steve that we needed another graphic designer on board to help with typography, design, and assemblage. Everything was done by hand at that time and was very meticulous and time consuming. I suggested Mick, he had completed a typographers course and had experience with design and lettering. He also knew Chris from Colchester College of Art , so Steve interviewed him and took him on. The graphics team was complete.
With all the glamour around me I began to feel a bit scruffy again to say the least, so I decided to take myself down to the Biba shop in Kensington High Street. I had been seeing a lot of glitter and leopardskin around and wanted to investigate. In the late winter of 1972-73 we were listening to lots of Roxy Music and they were played to death around Biba. Roxy Music and Bowie were at the zenith of the glam scene and Marc Bolan famously wore a Biba sequinned jacket .

Roxy+Music+roxy

Roxy music.

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Mark Bolan in Biba sequin jacket.

There was also Gary Glitter wrapped in bacofoil, we all laughed at him then, not so much now. Up until the 70’s, leopardskin had the reputation of looking tarty but Biba translated it into a refreshing new look. My first purchase was a fake fur leopardskin bomber jacket , there were only a few of them at the shop and I never saw one on anybody else. As there are no photos of this jacket and I do not have it anymore I have made a sketch. I also bought another jacket in the identical design but in a black and white houndstooth check wool fabric , for more sober moments. The leopardskin and glitter gear did not travel well outside London, a lot of people thought they were absurd so I only wore them in London.
The jacket was a very tight fit, it had deep black wool ribbing at the waist and a high collar [neck] There was a long gold metal zipper and two small zipped pockets at the chest. The shoulders were lightly padded and the sleeves voluminous at the bottom, ending in deep cuffs. I loved that jacket and wore it a lot with black trousers or skirts. Chris had a mens’ version at the same time with a fake fur cheetah pattern and slimmed down arms. Men had to be very skinny to carry off this look. The other jacket I bought was the well known tailored lurex wool jersey leopardskin jacket, I still have this and it is in pretty good condition.

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My glittery leopardskin jacket.

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My satin jacket.

This jacket was part of a trouser suit and I tried them on, they fitted great but there was something odd. A total Biba look did not suit me, I could not put my finger on why. The same went for the satin jacket which was part of a trouser suit and I still have that too. So I just went with the jackets and wore other very minimal clothes with them. The lurex leopardskin looked lovely glimmering in a dim light at night, and cheery on a dull day. I had to have a coat so I picked a stone coloured poplin cotton maxi trench coat [ long gone]. This had a very fitted body with the classic raglan sleeve design and curved seamed shoulder shaping. The collar stood up and the waist was cinched with a belt. Below he belt the coat was long and lean and I got a lot of wear out of it. I have sketched what I remember , this coat seemed to have been a small run , I did not see anyone else in it and have not seen any photos of it either.

bomberjackek trenchcoat
One day I heard there was going to be a jumble sale in the office to fund a Christmas party apparently. I went upstairs and saw huge piles of clothes on the tables, apparently they were samples that were being cleared out. There were some fantastic clothes there, I bagged a lovely black  wool blazer and a dress , two pounds each and went for a fur fabric swing back coat. Alas, somebody got there before me. The Christmas party was something else [from what I remember]. There was tons of champagne  food and loud music. Kids, dogs, and cake were being trampled everywhere, and of course lots of sequins , leopardskin , satin and glitter.
Steve and Tim took us all out for many long lunches to restaurants we would never have gone out to normally. Our favourite was  ‘The Bankok’ in South Kensington, a Thai restaurant which opened in 1967 and is still there today. On some friday afternoons when everyone was around after lunch we would all be working at our desks and Tim would open a bottle of Old Grandad whiskey. He would walk around the studio pouring a tipple into everybody’s empty coffee cup and then stand at his desk drawing, drinking, and chain-smoking Gauloise cigarettes. There was a lot of banter and laughter, off colour jokes and no p.c. nothing  like this would be acceptable today, in other words it was fun. We all smoked cigarettes like crazy , everybody at Biba smoked , well it kept you thin.
With Mick and I now working long hours and most of the weekend we would not get home until quite late. Sadly, Erly the old lady upstairs began to deteriorate quite rapidly at this time. I was horrified one day when I went up to see her in her flat, she was trying to boil water in a plastic bucket on her gas cooker. The landlady was very concerned too, she had made frequent trips to the house with various builders to patch the place up [ the house was falling apart ]  and saw her living conditions. In the end she got in touch with some of Erly’s relatives and one day they came to take her away and clear her flat out. She was crying as she was led downstairs for the last time.
The landlady asked us if we knew of anyone who could take the flat over. Of course we wanted someone we knew and we found a friend that we had known at Leicester. Stephanie had been studying at Nottingham university but had mutual friends at Leicester College of Art, now she was looking for a new flat so she took Erly’s old place and quickly transformed it. Stephanie had a great sense of fashion she could make clothes, knit , design her own patterns like nobody I have ever seen. She was also great at interior design too and with her Habitat furniture and kitchenware made the place look like a country cottage. Stephanie had just got a new job too as a manageress at no other than  the ‘Bus Stop’ boutique. Bus Stop had been around as long as Biba even next door to it at one point. Bus Stop clothes were designed by Lee Bender and had a lovely 1940’s vibe .Stephanie was a big Biba fan too so I was able to tell her  about some  of the things that were going on.
Back at work we were told that we were going to move to the Derry and Toms building in the spring but no one knew yet where our office would be.
All the logos were designed and approved by now and I was starting on the artwork which was another big challenge. All drawn by hand of course with rapidograph pens as I have mentioned, I had to work over my  pencil roughs and make many prints on cartridge paper made to get the finished effect. It was a very time consuming process which would probably take no time today on computers , but we often ask ourselves now would they look the same?
Then one day we were told we were told to pack all our things, we were on the move and the graphics department was going to be on the roof garden of Derry and Toms, just in time for summer!

5 comments

  1. oh, I remember the Christmas party at Woodfield Road. Loads of alcohol and then finding the office Slendertone slimming machine . Not recommended. ;-o

  2. That sounds like fun.

  3. So fascinating read this Kasia. Wonderful to see the drawings of the elusive leopard bomber jacket and trench – plus the photos of your jackets, amazing! I’ve a couple of Biba leopard jackets which are my favorite items. Love to find that bomber jacket one day..

  4. Thank you Deborah, there were only a few of the bomber jackets and trench coats and they went quickly but did not get replaced, I could never figure out why.

  5. love reading your blog……….. Marc Bolan looks like he was born to wear that spiffy jacket!

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