One of the most exquisite times in my life, a time when the magic of anticipation, sheer excitement and pure joy at those prospects transpires all at once – January of 1971. I had taken my first big trip, all on my own, to Great Britain. Since our emigration, my ‘forced’ departure from my home, Glasgow in 1967, I had been eager to go back to the UK to see how much better I believed it was than my new home. I was 19, my grandmother (we called her ‘nanny’) lived in Muswell Hill in London, so I knew that I had a place to stay when I arrived. I bought my charter flight ticket from my earnings as a temporary ‘telemarketer’ for the biggest store in Canada, the Timothy E. Eaton Company, Eatons. I was still living at home and I don’t believe that my parents asked me for monetary room and board, so my money was all mine. My plan was to fly to Gatwick (via Montreal, New York, Iceland and then Amsterdam, it was a charter flight after all!) stay with my nanny who lived in Muswell Hill for a while and check out the swinging metropolis of London and then somehow make my way up to Glasgow and check out the scene and how my friends were doing. Luckily for me I had a place to stay free in Glasgow as the young family who had purchased our house back in 1967 had become our friends.
I was not to realize how London would possess me in the way that it did. It was some time since ‘Swinging London’ had burst on the world scene in the sixties, but I figured that the boutiques and stores would still offer great findings in clothes. I would visit Carnaby Street, Kings Road and Oxford Street and check out the gear. Well, talk about an epiphany!. My Canadian $ afforded lots of pounds sterling, plus, everything was generally cheaper (at least it was back then), and the clothes were to die for! I found the funky, the cool, the gorgeous, the trendiest, and I bought, and I shopped and I bussed and tubed it to all the cool shops in London and came away ecstatic.
I had always stayed true to British fashion and the music scene and voraciously read the New Musical Express, Melody Maker, the British Vogue, 19 and Honey. I adored the fashion (the music I devoured) and much preferred it to what I saw North America offered. I found the 17 magazine, Glamour and the American Vogue to be inferior to the visual quality and impact of fashion that I saw in my UK mags. Back then I even knew the names of all the chicest trendiest British models. So living in Toronto, cruelly transplanted from my home country I managed to keep up with the British scene. One of the names that I equate with divine style in the late sixties, that I had read about, drooled over the fashion spreads and the muted pinks and mauves, velvets, gorgeous prints nipped waists and flowing fabrics, was BIBA. A total concept shop, Biba had fabulous womens’ clothes, neat knick-knacks, cosmetics, incredible posters depicting beautiful waifs with doleful eyes (like Ingrid Brett), in art nouveau surroundings in those muted BIBA shades. I had to somehow see BIBA. Finally in London, the home of all that was swinging and trendy I had my chance.
I learned quite quickly how to navigate the London buses and the Underground, so the Kings Road in Chelsea (by this time this stretch of shopping nirvana had taken over the Carnaby Street scene) was where I finally found myself. Elatedly, I made a few stops at the coolest looking boutiques until finally there it was: BIBA! And I was not disappointed! I remember it was a fairly large shop with large picture windows, and what did these windows display? No, not mannequins wearing BIBA’s delicious dresses, tops and blouses, no!, not BIBA. Armchairs and couches! With live people sitting in them! Turns out that the BIBA shoppers were the display, and they were truly fabulous trendoids! What an incredible idea I thought, trust BIBA to think of such a cutting edge concept so far removed from traditional stores. I approached the glass doors with total rapture. I walked in and immediately was immersed in loud heavenly (to me) music. It was one of my absolute favourite tracks: David Essex and ‘I Want To Make You A Star”! Somehow, it fit my enchantment so perfectly. There were many counters, fabulous Art Deco décor, heavenly scents, artfully arranged racks of beautiful clothes, totally hip salesgirls and of course the vibrant beautiful people who were the customers. There was even a tea place with light fare. I eventually became part of the window display as I sat in a plush comfy armchair drinking my pop and smoking a ciggy taking a break from the ‘hell’ of shopping. BIBA more than lived up to my expectations.
I wandered around taking in all the superb goods that BIBA had to offer. I bought posters, perfume, BIBA teeshirts which were black with gold art nouveau swirls and whymsical silhouettes, hair barettes, a black carry bag inscribed with the giant BIBA logo, now onto the clothes.
I gathered beautiful printed blouses, a few long flowing skirts, some exquisitely fitted long velvet coats, blouses with divine petit floral prints and sweeping collars, jersey jackets with small fluted trains and even a long dress or two.
What a shock I got when I entered the doors of the fitting room. Here is the one thing about my glorious BIBA that I definitely did not like or appreciate: communal changing rooms! (If BIBA had guys’ clothes I did not see, but at least there were no males changing in that large room)! Well I thought, I’m here now and I desperately want to see myself in BIBA gear, so I sought a corner where I could still view myself in a mirror and started to disrobe. This nasty extremely self-conscious feat was made all the more disconcerting by the fact that I was surrounded by many beautiful dollybirds in various states of undress….
I furtively turned my head to the willowy beauty who was in her bra and knickers only to realize with a jolt that she was none other than the supermodel (other than my beloved Twiggy) of the time, the main squeeze of the legendary fashion photographer, David Bailey, Jean Shrimpton, the Shrimp! And yes, she was truly gorgeously stunning, even with no makeup! Somehow I managed to bashfully try on my chosen items, feverishly willing no-one to look at me next to this magnificent specimen. I believe that I bought the blouse, and some black stretchy tees with lovely golden Chasia vintagey figures but nothing else as BIBA’s clothes were impossibly small. I wasn’t a big girl, about 100 pounds at 5 foot 3 inches with generous boobs, which meant I could not button up a lot of shirts or dresses .