Barbara Hulanicki


At Home with Barbara Hulanicki

The founder of legendary fashion store Biba shows us round her Miami pad. By Lucie Young

Barbara Hulanicki opened her first Biba store in London in 1964, inventing lifestyle retailing and cheap chic – still the cornerstones of British fashion – with one leap. When Biba closed in 1976, she moved abroad, eventually settling in Miami and reinventing herself as an interior designer. In the early Nineties, she led the revitalization of the city’s South Beach district by renovating five of its Art Deco hotels. Now, 72, Barbara is busier than ever designing private homes and hotels and launching new product lines including Biba-esque wallpaper for Brit brand Graham & Brown, groovy velvet and leather handbags for Coccinelle and a line of jewellery for the V&A Museum, which she describes as ‘Tiffany meets Ghengis Khan’. Rumor has it she is also at work on a line of clothes for one of Britain’s most fashionable retailers. We met up with her at her colour-filled home.

How long have you lived here?

For 20 years. The building used to be a posh hotel for old folks, that’s why there’s a ramp outside. It’s very useful for suitcases. This was the first building in South Beach that was remodelled. I’ve lived in almost every apartment here – the last time I moved was from a corner flat, when Hurricane Katrina blew out all the windows! I was lying in bed one night thinking ‘Why is my floor so shiny?’ It was all the water pouring through. I ran out and then all the windows fell in.

How would you describe your decorating style?

I start minimalistic and then can’t keep it up.

What attracted you to holiday here in the Sixties?

The little Art Deco area. It was all decaying, but so beautiful. My late husband Fitz and I came for the sun, the beach and the thrift shops. The whole of Washington Avenue was full of these amazing thrift shops because lots of rich old ladies were always dying.

What was it like when you moved here in the Eighties?

When I was designing Woody’s on the Beach (Rolling Stone Ron Wood’s nightclub), the security would come and collect me in the evening just to cross the road. It was very dangerous and there were lots of druggies. I wasn’t scared – I loved it. I was brought up in Palestine where there’s a lot of tension.

What do you collect?

I fall in love with things like lamps or ashtrays, or a color. It’s obsessive and it won’t stop. I love all those flea market stalls that have heaps of broken jewellery. I was thinking it would be so nice to fuse it all together, so I just bought a little drill and solder.

What is your favourite object?

A 40s mirror I got it out of a skip. It is a real Betty Grable-style one. I love mirrors. The one in my bathroom is slightly distorted and gives you nice long legs.

What’s the most important feature in an apartment?

Lots of closets for all the clothes you never wear. I’m not possessive of anything, except my black winter coats, which I can’t wear here. And only a few shoes fit, the rest is decoration.

Do you have storage?

I have two bulging storage units – one is beautifully laid out like a house and the other is just piled high with boxes and I’ve lost the key. I am ashamed to say I have everything, all the artwork from Biba, including Helmut Newton photographs with my pencil marks on for what I wanted changed, like the models hips being too big.

Which colours do you avoid?

White, because it doesn’t stay white, unless you are a neurotic housewife. And I hate green. My school uniform was green and I think it ‘s bad luck.

Do you have a daily routine?

I walk or swim every morning. Then I go to church. Likrish (my assistant) says; ‘Oh golly, you must have been to church. We’ve got all these new jobs coming in’.

What’s your favourite place in the apartment?

My bed. It is my nest and great for watching telly. My son Witold and I used to laugh over an Angela Lansbury film where she has a huge deck of TV screens. That’s my dream.

© 2008