THE EMPRESS OF LIFE- retrospective interview with my mentor Barbara Hulanicki!
Barbara Hulanicki- was born in Poland in 1936 but raised in England. She made her name with "Biba", the cult fashion English brand that she established with her husband Stephen Fitz-Simon in the year 1964. the first boutique opened in Kensington and was a magnet for stars including the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Twiggy. Incidentally, Anna Wintour started in fashion as a Biba employee.
Photo: Barbara Hulanicki, also with her husband Stephen Fitz-Simon at their store Big Biba.
By 1974 Biba had graduated to a department store "Big Biba" ( interiors designed by barbara itself ), the store becomes iconic and was called as one of the most beautiful stores in the world. After the shop's 1975 demise, Hulanicki continued to work in the fashion industry, designing for labels such as Fiorucci and Cacharel and, from 1980 to 1992, designed a line of children's wear, Minirock, licensed to the Japanese market.
Barbara Hulanicki was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2012 for services to the fashion industry.
She presently resides in Miami, Florida, where she has an interior-design business, designing hotels for Chris Blackwell in Jamaica and the Bahamas and collaborating with various fashion brands such as Top Shop.
Also, Barbara Hulanicki is reunited with Biba, creating a capsule collection for House of Fraser in autumn 2015 ( read more ).
Photos: from left: Barbara with: Andy Warhol, Kate Moss, Twiggy.
This interview is dedicated to the all believers!
Before you read this interview, let me first introduce you to my story and how I met Barbara Hulanicki.
When I came to the United States in 2010 (Detroit, MI) I was very lonely and depressed! I had left my family, friends, culture and everything I knew in my life behind. Most of the time I painted, educated myself and tried to process my new language. I had my little treasure too, as a gift to myself when I worked hard enough, I would buy my very favorite Polish fashion magazine “TwojStyl”. I read the greatest articles, mostly about successful women I’m fascinated about. Here I saw an article about Barbara Hulanicki! I got instantly hooked with her talent, personality, and energy!
I went into the subject deeper- like a typical student and I discovered, that she lives in Miami and on top of it, she has an e-mail address as well (lol)!
My Mom used to say that we must keep trying, therefore, I wrote a letter to Barbara with my admiration, asking if she could comment on my illustrations, because I really cared for her honest opinion. I really didn’t count on an answer and over time I forgot about the whole topic.
One day I was checking my inbox like normal and this one e-mail stood out, I thought I would explode from excitement when I seen it! I had received an e-mail back from Barbara in person! She said that my illustrations "are marvels"! You can only imagine how I felt after receiving such feedback!
A few months afterward Luke (my husband) and I decided to visit our friends in Miami. I never thought I would ever see Barbara but after some crazy circumstances, it happened! Here I was at her atelier, face to face, shaking like crazy from excitement. I swear I believe I saw rays shining over her head like a goddess! I could hardly speak up. I didn’t know what to ask because every question would probably sound stupid or inappropriate. Barbara was such a positive, warm and amazing person, exactly how she is in videos. She made me feel comfortable and special. I will never forget it! … Two years after that experience, I interviewed Barbara and my dream had come true!
July 16, 2014, Miami Beach | Florida.
Philosophy of your company and life: Which one because I have a lot (laugh). I think everything takes much longer than you thought, that’s why we have to be patient and always keep trying and never give up.
- Your biggest passion: Drawings and movies.
- How long you live in Miami?: We came here for 6 months and stay for 20 years!!! But we knew Miami before we’d moved here, because we use to came to Miami for vacation. It was a direct fly from London “to the sun”. And also I loved the Art Deco here.
- Tell us a little bit about yourself and a little secret about you: A secret? I’m Sagittarius so everything comes out; it’s almost a sin to keep secrets! (Laugh)… I can’t stand repeating for example, it drives me crazy!
- Tell us how you started your business in Miami, the biggest obstacles and worries you had at the very beginning: I received a quick job for one of the Rolling Stones- Ronnie Wood. It was a beautiful building with the columns up front on the 5th Street. It was suppose to be a hotel but it turned into a night club. It was going to be 6 months and it turned into 2 years and it never got finished. But it was one of the first places here on the beach. That time (in the 90's) here was really dangerous but also full of artists and creative people. Then I met Chris Blackwell (an English businessman and former record producer, and the founder of Island Records, which has been called "one of Britain's great independent labels" Blackwell's business and reach grew substantially, and he went on to forge the careers of Bob Marley, Grace Jones and U2 among many other diverse high-profile acts.- the editor note). He asked me: “would you like to do a hotel?” I said: “Yes, I would love to do a hotel”. Then he bought like eleven buildings and the work went on and on, never stopped. That was really interesting. In years 60’s a lot of musicians came to Miami and then all top photographers and the top models came here for shoots. It was top everything and that was major! Everything was run by weekends, shows on the beach called a Convention Center. It was really trendsetting. I liked that.
- What’s your vision of Miami in the future? It changes itself all the time so it’s nothing you can say. It’s quite interesting how it happens here.
- Learning from experience: Your biggest fail and your biggest accomplishment? I’m not done yet, I mean everything evolves and gets more and more interesting if you learn more. But it’s very nice to do everything at once: designing hotels and clothes, leather etc., learn how the industries work…
- What kind of projects do you currently make? I’m designing a leather prints, I’m going to a Fashion Festival in England to teach children how to illustrate. It’s madness like everything is made by computers now and a lot of designers are really good technical but they can’t draw by hand. Afterwards I’m developing to my “Iconic Club”.
- Any business plans for the near future? Yes, If I’m getting the offers yes! I’m working also on my Icon Club, doing a lot of press for that.
- What albums and books do you cherish the most from your home library? All the Fashion Books I have and modern books. I like to go through them but I don’t read a lot like how I use to, just because reading is almost like meditation, you have to have time and focus on it.
- Who or what is currently your biggest inspiration in Fashion and design? It’s hard to say, it’s very difficult because I watch these Fashion Shows on TV and I know the names of the designers, but it’s hard to recognize their designs. To me, they all look the same. Some of them are great like Rick Owens or Mark Jacobs because they make “human clothes”. The shows now are all couture; they are so dressy and not practical. I’m always asking myself the question how to even wash it? All those feathers and decorations, what do you do- sponge them?! So I guess it’s for people who wear them once.
- Any fashion icon/ celebrity style you admired? Kate Blanchet and maybe Nicole Richie. She is incredibly funny. From the old times I admired Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly.
- Who is you very favorite painter/ illustrator? I like the Art Nouveau. I like Gustav Klimt, AlfonsMucha, EgonSchiele. Aubrey Vincent Beardsley he was very influential in the 60’s for me as well.
- I know in your childhood you were movie obsessed, any movies from the past and also from the present time you really love to go back to and that you recommend? I don’t like the 30’s movies anymore; they’re annoying to me because they are too slow and women were so soft and pleasing! I love “The Ghost Writer” (2010) by Roman Polanski, I’ve watched it so many times. It’s so incredible and sad that we can’t see anymore more of his work. Woody Allen is not my very favorite, but actually, he’s made a great movie now called “Blue Jasmine” with Kate Blanchet (2013). There are so many details so you can watch it over and over again. It’s brilliant.
- Do you watch any TV shows? I watch shows on HBO- all of them! Check out “Silicon Valley” – it’s the funniest! You’ll roll on the floor!
- What is you favorite music style and music band? I don’t really listen to music, because I’m more into movies but I listen to some in the car. I like Edith Piaf and Tom Waits for example.
- What is your favorite dish and dessert? I really like healthy food; I’m not a big fan of meat. I heard last time a great quote: “don’t eat anything with the face on it”! I love Polish Food; it’s amazing and so delicious! I love hot soups a lot. I don’t really eat desserts, I cut them off my diet, but if I have to choose it’ll be cheesecake.
- Do you have any pets? Not now, but my assistant Likrish has a lovely dog named Zoey who “works” with us. Likrish says, “It’s actually half Barbara’s dog”. She spends a lot of time under my desk.
- How do you spend your free time if you have any ;)? I’m glued to TV!!! (Laugh).
- What do you like and hate about people? I like funny people with distance to themselves. I don’t like phones and assholes.
- Any sports (exercise) you do? You’re so fit and energetic! I swim sometimes and I really love walking, if I have comfortable shoes which are really hard to find in my size.
- Lucky number? I’m not sure…I think 13 could be great, but I’ve not tested it yet ;).
- What kind of dreams do you have? I never dream a lot. When I do I don’t want to wake up.
- What should I wish Barbara Hulanicki? A nice hot bowl of soup ;), and another pair of shoes that will fit! (Laugh).
- You are amazing and a true inspiration, thank you for your time, with love, Mia
Photos taken casually at Barbara's atelier ( Miami Beach).