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.

McCall’s x Canada Dry, 1971

McCalls 2761 (1971)
McCall’s 2761 (1971) Canada Dry “Pounds-Thinner” pattern.

Happy Canada Day! In celebration, here’s a Canada Dry pattern from McCall’s.

Established in Toronto in 1904, by the ’70s Canada Dry was owned by Norton Simon, which was also McCall’s parent company. Canada Dry’s new low-calorie, sugar-free sodas showed a woman in a black leotard to match the branding for McCall’s Pounds-Thinner pattern line. New in 1971, the line is problematic today for its body-negativity.

This Canada Dry pattern envelope is a special alternate. (Compare the more often seen catalogue version.) Instead of the usual Pounds-Thinner branding, there’s a charming Biba-style illustration in colours to match the soda packaging.

Free Designer Pattern: Simone Rocha Skirt

Model Ana Buljevic photographed by Rob Rusling in an ensemble from Simone Rocha's Spring 2014 collection
Ana Buljevic in Simone Rocha Spring 2014. Photo: Rob Rusling. Image: SHOWstudio.

After a three-year hiatus, SHOWstudio has released a new Design Download: a skirt by Simone Rocha. The Dublin-born Central St Martins graduate won the British Womenswear Designer award for 2016, and now has stores in London and New York. (For more, see Matthew Schneier, “Simone Rocha, Born to Fashion, Makes Her Own Mark.”)

The three-bite pearl-embellished skirt is from Rocha’s Spring 2014 collection, which drew critical acclaim for its deconstructed femininity. (See Suzy Menkes’ review, “Simone Rocha, Family and Fashion.”) You can see the full collection at vogue.com, or check out the detail images at the designer’s website.

A pearl-trimmed, black neoprene ensemble in Simone Rocha's Spring 2014 collection
Simone Rocha’s Spring 2014 collection. Image: vogue.com.

Pearl-edged slashes were a signature element of the collection, as were the pearl-trimmed knee-high stockings. (Rocha has said she is inspired by her grandmothers.)

Two pearl-trimmed looks from Simone Rocha's Spring 2014 collection
Two looks from Simone Rocha’s Spring 2014 collection. Images: vogue.com.

Watch a 3D rendering video of the skirt in motion:

For their competition prize, SHOWstudio commissioned Fiona Gourlay to produce an original illustration of Rocha’s Spring 2014 ensemble:

Simone Rocha 2014 - fashion illustration by Fiona Gourlay, 2016.
Simone Rocha illustration by Fiona Gourlay, 2016. Image: SHOWstudio.

The pattern download comes in a choice of A4 or A1 sheets, each with a test line to check the scale.

Simone Rocha skirt pattern pieces
Image: SHOWstudio.

Download the skirt pattern (7 pieces)

Notes: The original was neoprene. The yoke calls for fused lining (fusible interfacing). Slashed edges are finished with binding.

Notions: 20 cm (8″) zipper.

View the submissions gallery.

McCall Style News, November 1934

1930s fur-trimmed tunic coat illustration - McCall 8038 (1934)
McCall 8038 on the cover of McCall Style News, November 1934.

We finally got some snow in Toronto. Here’s a winter-themed cover from the mid-1930s.

The pattern is McCall 8038, a suit consisting of a high-waisted skirt and tunic-length wrap coat with fur-trimmed collar.

(The NRA eagle logo shows compliance with the National Recovery Administration. For more on this Depression-era US policy, see Rebecca Onion for Slate.)

The Epitome of Fall Chic

Butterick 6399 illustrated by Myrtle Lages on the cover of Butterick Fashion Magazine, Fall 1935
Butterick Fashion Magazine, Fall 1935. Illustration: Myrtle Lages.

To celebrate the first day of autumn, here’s a vintage Butterick cover from fall, 1935.

The fur-collared cover look is Butterick 6399, “A brief and buttoned jacket, snugly fitted and collared with badger or wolf, plus a skirt worn shorter than the length you’re used to—these make the suit the epitome of fall chic.”

For more on vintage fur, both natural and faux, see Fur Cloth for Fall.

McCall Fashions for January 1918

Illustration of two women skating on the cover of a McCall Pattern Company news leaflet, winter 1918 (McCall 8125, 8130, and 8121)
McCall Fashions, January 1918.

Now that the temperature has dropped, I wanted to share a near-antique McCall News from winter 1917-18.

The cover illustration shows two women skating on a frozen lake. The fur-trimmed dress on the left is McCall 8125, with ‘aviation cap’ McCall 8130; the dress on the right is McCall 8121.

Inside the leaflet are some interesting patterns for war work. You may recognize overall suit McCall 7860 from my Great War post. Here we see the sleeveless view worn over a blouse:

World War 1 McCall 7860 overall suit pattern in McCall Fashions leaflet
McCall 7860 overall suit in McCall Fashions, January 1918.

‘The Conservation Uniform,’ McCall 7970, is a dress apron designated “Official Food Conservation Uniform; for the use of women signing the Conservation Pledge of the Food Commission.” (Often called a Hoover apron—for more, see witness2fashion’s post.) The cap and cuffs were included in the pattern:

World War 1 dress apron / conservation uniform pattern McCall 7970 in McCall Fashions leaflet
The Conservation Uniform: McCall 7970 dress apron in McCall Fashions, January 1918.

The ‘aviation cap’ from the cover is shown with McCall 7897, a ladies’ military dress with optional cape:

World War 1 patterns: Military dress McCall 7895 and aviation cap McCall 8130 in McCall Fashions leaflet
Military dress McCall 7895 and aviation cap McCall 8130 in McCall Fashions, January 1918.