Not currently on display at the V&A

Sample Book

1972-1973 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

The designers and shops represented in Danuta Laughton’s early-1970s wardrobe all flourished in London’s vibrant retail scene for the youth sector, established in the 1960s. Many of Danuta Laughton’s favourite styles came from Biba, one of the most famous brands in British fashion history.

Biba began in 1963, with an experimental dress available by mail order through the Daily Mirror, and the first Biba store opened in 1964, in a former chemist’s shop at 87, Abingdon Road, a quiet cul-de-sac off Kensington High Street. Barbara Hulanicki’s designs embraced the style of her parents’ generation, borrowing elements from the couture worn by her Aunt Sophie, combining Hollywood glamour and pretty 1930s printed florals, often inspired by or sourced directly from old mill stock. Hulanicki’s very popular designs were made by small London factories and were defined by the flattering Biba signature cut, with narrow sleeves and short shoulder seams (thanks to the exacting work of Hulanicki’s pattern cutter, Ann Behr). The sympathetic atmosphere at Abingdon Road was nostalgic and decadent, its improvised interior furnished with original shop fittings, bentwood hat stands, and other junk shop finds. The store complemented the romantic, sensual appeal of her clothing, with loud music, stylish staff, dimly lit period interiors and chaotic changing rooms. The clothes were good value, so young working women could shop alongside models, singers and actresses.

Hulanicki and her small team developed close working relationships with specialist manufacturers in London who made their designs, often in relatively small quantities and within short production schedules. By working directly with factories rather than with wholesale companies, Biba prices were kept low in comparison to the small quantities made of fitted designs, while in contrast the Biba basics such as t-shirts were sometimes more cheaply made and sold in their thousands. The high quality of the fabrics and attention to detail (such as covered buttons, and unusual pattern cutting) seen in many surviving dresses and separates are indicative of extremely good value for money.

This fascinating working file of Biba manufacturing orders containing a range of designs from 1972-3, with fabric swatches in different colourways. The fabric swatches are predominantly synthetic jerseys and crepes, suitable for the fitted jackets, flared trousers and flowing skirts the orders specify. Each document, with the Biba, 124-126 Kensington High Street heading and addressed to the Famosa factory at Craven Mews, in Paddington, lists quantities in sizes and colours to be made and indicates delivery schedules. There are orders for a halter-neck top (Museum number T. 2396-2021) that survives in Danuta Laughton’s collection. Probably a unique survival, the file was saved by Danuta Laughton’s husband from destruction, when he was visiting the Famosa factory to purchase stock for his shop ‘Wardrobe’, in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, in 1975. The Big Biba shop had just closed, and Harry Abrahams, the owner of the Famosa factory, was disposing of all his Biba production orders, believing them to have no value, but he gave Peter Laughton permission to take one as a memento.

The manufacturing of garments is often missing from existing accounts of fashion history, which have focused on elite designers and consumption. The file saved by Peter Laughton sheds light on the subject as a case study for the history of garment production in small, local factories, which underpinned the success of British designers in the post-war period. The Biba documents and the accompanying garments testify to the unacknowledged labour of machinists who made good quality ready-to-wear, before the decline of British manufacturing in the face of new (prohibitively expensive) CAD methods, laser-cutting machines, and off-shore manufacturing.

Object details

Object type
Materials and techniques
Brief description
A lever-arch file containing Biba production documents for the Famosa factory, London 1972-73
Physical description
A card ringbinder containing about 120 production order sheets for Biba, each completed in biro pen with a diagram of the relevant Biba design, schedules of quantities and sizes to be made and stapled with small fabric samples. Additional notes and fabric labels added in some cases. Each order is on a printed Biba production order sheet with the Biba address at 124-126 Kensington High Street and addressed to the Famosa factory at Craven Mews, in Paddington.
Production typeUnique
Credit line
Given by Danuta and Peter Laughton
Object history
This file of production documents includes an order for a halter-neck top (Museum number T. 2396-2021), a garment that survives in Danuta Laughton’s collection. Probably a unique survival, the file was saved by Peter Laughton, Danuta Laughton’s husband, from destruction, when he was visiting the Famosa factory to purchase stock for his shop ‘Wardrobe’, in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, in 1975. The Big Biba shop had just closed, and Harry Abrahams, the owner of the Famosa factory, was disposing of all his Biba production orders, believing them to have no value, but he gave Peter Laughton permission to take one as a memento.
Summary
The designers and shops represented in Danuta Laughton’s early-1970s wardrobe all flourished in London’s vibrant retail scene for the youth sector, established in the 1960s. Many of Danuta Laughton’s favourite styles came from Biba, one of the most famous brands in British fashion history.

Biba began in 1963, with an experimental dress available by mail order through the Daily Mirror, and the first Biba store opened in 1964, in a former chemist’s shop at 87, Abingdon Road, a quiet cul-de-sac off Kensington High Street. Barbara Hulanicki’s designs embraced the style of her parents’ generation, borrowing elements from the couture worn by her Aunt Sophie, combining Hollywood glamour and pretty 1930s printed florals, often inspired by or sourced directly from old mill stock. Hulanicki’s very popular designs were made by small London factories and were defined by the flattering Biba signature cut, with narrow sleeves and short shoulder seams (thanks to the exacting work of Hulanicki’s pattern cutter, Ann Behr). The sympathetic atmosphere at Abingdon Road was nostalgic and decadent, its improvised interior furnished with original shop fittings, bentwood hat stands, and other junk shop finds. The store complemented the romantic, sensual appeal of her clothing, with loud music, stylish staff, dimly lit period interiors and chaotic changing rooms. The clothes were good value, so young working women could shop alongside models, singers and actresses.

Hulanicki and her small team developed close working relationships with specialist manufacturers in London who made their designs, often in relatively small quantities and within short production schedules. By working directly with factories rather than with wholesale companies, Biba prices were kept low in comparison to the small quantities made of fitted designs, while in contrast the Biba basics such as t-shirts were sometimes more cheaply made and sold in their thousands. The high quality of the fabrics and attention to detail (such as covered buttons, and unusual pattern cutting) seen in many surviving dresses and separates are indicative of extremely good value for money.

This fascinating working file of Biba manufacturing orders containing a range of designs from 1972-3, with fabric swatches in different colourways. The fabric swatches are predominantly synthetic jerseys and crepes, suitable for the fitted jackets, flared trousers and flowing skirts the orders specify. Each document, with the Biba, 124-126 Kensington High Street heading and addressed to the Famosa factory at Craven Mews, in Paddington, lists quantities in sizes and colours to be made and indicates delivery schedules. There are orders for a halter-neck top (Museum number T. 2396-2021) that survives in Danuta Laughton’s collection. Probably a unique survival, the file was saved by Danuta Laughton’s husband from destruction, when he was visiting the Famosa factory to purchase stock for his shop ‘Wardrobe’, in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, in 1975. The Big Biba shop had just closed, and Harry Abrahams, the owner of the Famosa factory, was disposing of all his Biba production orders, believing them to have no value, but he gave Peter Laughton permission to take one as a memento.

The manufacturing of garments is often missing from existing accounts of fashion history, which have focused on elite designers and consumption. The file saved by Peter Laughton sheds light on the subject as a case study for the history of garment production in small, local factories, which underpinned the success of British designers in the post-war period. The Biba documents and the accompanying garments testify to the unacknowledged labour of machinists who made good quality ready-to-wear, before the decline of British manufacturing in the face of new (prohibitively expensive) CAD methods, laser-cutting machines, and off-shore manufacturing.
Collection
Accession number
T.2417-2021

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Record createdOctober 7, 2021
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