Interview on Tuesday, October 31
Location: Hu Design Inc, Miami Beach
Before being a Fashion designer I was a fashion Illustrator in the early 1960s. I was very lucky to get a job in London at an illustration studio and I worked my way up. When I met my husband, Stephen Fitz-Simon – he was in advertising. Since he was in the promotion business I was able to have a lot of contacts at publications like WWD and Harpers Bazaar. All the big ones! I would do the drawings of each design and we would put it in the newspaper but we were lucky we did not have to pay any of the publications. At the time we were married the brand started to become more popular but we noticed we were spending a lot of time packing/unpacking designs, and doing very time consuming tasks. It wasn’t really worth it for what we were making. We were going to give it up until one day someone wanted me to make them a dress. She asked me what I wanted to make and I said ‘Well, Brigitte Bardot is wearing a lot of Gingham and I would like to create a Gingham dress.” And so we got the samples made, photographs, all thinking it was a trend of the moment and it was going to go away soon. Little did we know – we sold about 17000 dresses, same style, same color, same cut and size! It was very scary at the time because to find fabric for this amount of dresses and it was just the two of us! Luckily I had a teacher at school that helped me by sending some students to help us out. By then, in London as we were looking for the fabric – we needed like 30000 yards of Gingham, which takes long time to produce because it’s all woven. So, I would just say it was really really scary. Manufacturing was also done in London. We started working with a great one, he stayed with us for 12 years. And while we were producing these dresses we started using a little shop in Abington road. The price of the dress was 25 shillings (around £23 in today’s money) - then we increased the price a bit and they started to be 2 pounds. But the prices were always very low for the market. It was in 1964 when my husband and I opened the first BIBA store. The shop started to be so packed at times that we decided to open a second one. This area was rough at the time, so we were able to get cheap rent for amazing spaces. Every two years we moved, to bigger spaces. The 4th shop was the biggest. This was the first one we opened with other partners, and not just my husband and I . They were retailers, and so we decided to do a cosmetics line as well with them. Women came to shop for the "The Biba Look" or "Dudu Look"; a fresh little foals with long legs, bright faces and round dolly eyes. That was fun! We suddenly had this really big store that was worth a lot of money so unfortunately the parnters’ part was taken over by a big company.
I was asked to design a club for Ronnie Wood, one of the Rolling Stones. And he said come for 6 months – that was 30 years ago! Haha. And I am still here. And then I met Chris Blackwell, he bought about 10 buildings here in Miami at the time – and he asked if I wanted to start designing hotels and was like – OK! Then we worked together with Chris’ company for ages, and you know here – one thing always takes you to something else. Miami back then was amazing – it was literally full of artists and music people. Then came all the models and photographers – the major ones. They started to put the prices up everywhere. Then were the films. Now there is nothing! I’ve always stayed in the same space though. In this building in Collins ave. and it’s been interesting to see the evolution of this area throughout the years.
Oh, every time I think it is over for Miami, it comes back! Miami will always be a nice city to be in.
Of course London fashion is always right. But I like it here because II feel like everything goes.
I find myself at Neiman every now and then. From the contemporary brands I like Y-3 and Rick Owens and Off-White. I like how they interpret what fashion is. What I don’t like and can’t stand is vintage shops. I feel like there is so many ghosts in there it’s frightening! I believe the clothes keep the energy of people. Even if you clean them, I believe that there is a part of that persons’ past that stayed in the clothing.
Go with the flow. I like it here a lot because I feel like Americans’ way of thinking gravitates towards the future and not the past. In London for example, everybody is always talking about yesterday. Here, it’s all about what is next.
Get practical experience first!
Such a pleasure to meet you, Barbara. Thank you!
Interview by: Erika Greco