Biba: McCall’s Patterns

1970s Biba cover - 19 magazine, January 1971 photographed by David Tack
A Biba look on the cover of 19 magazine, January 1971. Photo: David Tack.

I started this blog eight years ago this month. To celebrate, here’s a look at some all-but-forgotten licensing: patterns by Barbara Hulanicki for Biba.

Ingrid Boulting wearing Tiger Lily dress by Biba at Lacock Abbey, British Vogue, July 1970. Photo: Norman Parkinson
Ingrid Boulting wears Biba’s Tiger Lily dress at Lacock Abbey, British Vogue, July 1970. Photo: Norman Parkinson. Image: Iconic Images.

Biba might be the biggest brand you’ll never see on a pattern. Born in Warsaw, Biba founder Barbara Hulanicki (b. 1936) grew up in Palestine and Brighton, where she attended Brighton Art School. She worked as a fashion illustrator before starting the Biba label with her husband, Stephen “Fitz” Fitz-Simon. Sometimes called the first lifestyle brand, Biba was a runaway success in Swinging London, selling everything from cosmetics to couture.

Biba designs for Seventeen - McCall's Pattern no. 2725
Biba design for Seventeen, Brighton Museum, 2013. Image: The cherry blossom girl.

In 1970, Hulanicki licensed patterns with McCall’s as a way to launch her brand in North America. The main promotion was in Seventeen Magazine, as it was Seventeen editor Rosemary McMurtry who first approached Hulanicki about the idea. Hulanicki mentions the McCall’s deal in her memoirs, as well as The Biba Years, 1963-1975, which she co-wrote with Martin Pel, curator of Brighton’s Biba and Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki.

Book cover for Barbara Hulanicki and Martin Pel's The Biba Years, 1963-1975 (V&A 2014)
Barbara Hulanicki and Martin Pel, The Biba Years, 1963-1975 (V&A 2014) Image: V&A.
Biba label - the Costume Institute
Image: Costume Institute.

Around New Year’s, 1971, Seventeen readers could peruse the new Biba patterns in a dreamy Sarah Moon editorial shot in Paris. Among the models was Ingrid Boulting, the face of Biba Cosmetics (another Sarah Moon project). As Hulanicki writes in her memoir, From A to Biba, the setting for the shoot was the round tower of Au Printemps, the storied Paris department store. The printed fabrics — cotton satin, rayon crepe, cotton voile, twill, and broadcloth — were all Tootal for Biba, and available at retailers like Macy’s in New York. (More at Sweet Jane. Seventeen scans courtesy of Musings from Marilyn.)

Sarah Moon's "Biba Boutique" McCall's editorial in Seventeen Magazine, Jan. 1971
“Biba Boutique,” Seventeen Magazine, January 1971. Photos: Sarah Moon. Images: Musings from Marilyn.
Sarah Moon's "Biba Boutique" McCall's editorial in Seventeen Magazine, Jan. 1971
“Biba Boutique,” Seventeen Magazine, January 1971. Photos: Sarah Moon. Images: Musings from Marilyn.
Sarah Moon's "Biba Boutique" McCall's editorial in Seventeen Magazine, Jan. 1971
“Biba Boutique,” Seventeen Magazine, January 1971. Photos: Sarah Moon. Images: Musings from Marilyn.

The patterns were even covered more than once in Women’s Wear Daily.

Robert Melendez Biba illustration in Women's Wear Daily, 1971
From “Viva Biba,” WWD, January 5, 1971. Illustration: Robert Melendez. Image: Shrimpton Couture.

The designs consisted of a top and skirt, separates and a hat, a long-sleeved dress and short-sleeved coatdress, and a midi or maxi dress, all in junior sizes only. Two included a matching choker. Customers could see the Biba logo in McCall’s retail catalogues, but the pattern envelopes give no indication they’re Biba designs.

1970s Biba pattern McCall's 2725
McCall’s 2725 by Biba (1971)
1970s Biba pattern McCall's 2728
McCall’s 2728 by Biba (1971)
1970s Biba pattern McCall's 2746
McCall’s 2746 by Biba (1971)
1970s Biba pattern McCall's 2747
McCall’s 2747 by Biba (1971)

McCall’s Pattern Fashions featured the Biba patterns in a four-page illustrated portfolio called “Seventeen Magazine Pattern Selections.” The write-up emphasizes Biba’s novelty in North America: Now Seventeen Magazine brings Biba to America … You, too, can be a Biba girl without crossing the Atlantic.

Seventeen Magazine Pattern Selections: Now Seventeen Magazine brings Biba to America in an exclusive group of McCall's patterns
Biba patterns in McCall’s Pattern Fashions, Spring 1971.
Seventeen Magazine Pattern Selections: You, too, can be a Biba girl without crossing the Atlantic
Biba patterns in McCall’s Pattern Fashions, Spring 1971.

Curiously, the Biba patterns aren’t in McCall’s back index, but one of them appears in this croquet-themed textiles ad — at left, in printed Dacron crepe:

McCall's Pattern Fashions Spring 1971 Klopman
Klopman advertisement in McCall’s Pattern Fashions, Spring 1971.

The peplum blouse with short “mushroom” sleeves (McCall’s 2725, view B) is very similar to a Biba evening suit seen in a 19 cover portfolio by David Tack. (Cover at top of post.) Like Seventeen, the British teen magazine also published its feature around the time of New Year’s, 1971.

Have you sewn any of the Biba patterns?

David Tack, Biba screen-printed satin evening suit in 19 magazine, January 1971
Biba screen-printed satin evening suit in 19 magazine, January 1971. Photo: David Tack. Image: Vintage-a-Peel.

7 thoughts on “Biba: McCall’s Patterns

  1. Fascinating article! I had some Biba things, I remember the London shop very well.

    They were SO cutting edge at the time.

    One was a cotton jersey trouser suit with matching jacket, long and fitted, a darkish but vivid blue with a tiny white Victorian style flower print…Sounds terrible but it was actually beautiful. Another was a shirt with attitude – looked like something a dark Renaissance prince might have worn for his portrait sittings. Black satin, with huge ballooning sleeves. Over that I sometimes wore something that looked like a Pre-Raphaelite interpretation of what an Elizabethan or late medieval person might have worn. It was a stiff sort of tapestry, or brocade or something. A sleeveless floor length flared coat, cream background with a tangle of dark red and dark green flowers and foliage all over. The general impression was that you’d just run up something quickly from a tapestry curtain that used to hang in your great great aunt’s Elizabethan manor house.

    I felt entirely at home in these robes and some people were actually impressed by them…My usual style was jumble sale and vintage and in summer, long white , lacy Victorian night gowns worn on the street …

    Shonagh

  2. I remember loving these Biba designs. I’m pretty sure I made #2746 — the coatdress in the center, without the other dress underneath, in a sprigged print on a burgundy background, with self covered buttons down the front.

  3. What a treat! I have McCall’s 2725 and in 1971 made both views. I loved it, still do.
    Thanks for the post and for eight years of looking back at patterns.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.