Barbara Hulanicki returns to the school where she learnt her trade
15 Aug 2013
Now 73 and living in Miami where she has rejuvenated art deco areas of the city, Barbara said she felt “weird” as she walked into workshops in what was in her day the Brighton College of Art in Grand Parade.
She said: “It was a different building, very old and smelly and I spent a lot of my time going to the cinema. Now, it’s really nice here and students have so much more equipment to work with.”
She offered students some advice: “Work with people who like style and design, even if it means you just looking after the store rooms for them, so you can see how the system works.
“Work in shops and learn about the public and what they want, not what buyers like because sometimes they get it wrong.”
A teacher who Barbara hadn’t seen in 50 years was among admirers who filled the university’s Sallis Benney theatre for a showing of a film about Barbara’s life “Beyond Biba”.
Pauline Ratty told the audience during a question and answer session: “She had an amazing ability. She was a striking student and I could see she was different.
"My head (of school) told me that I had to try and change her ways but I remember thinking she has got to be free. I’m so proud of her.”
Another fan, Lynne Shields from Wales and a former university student, told the audience: “I just want to thank Barbara for bringing the possibility of gorgeousness to Merthyr Tydfil and the valleys.”
Molly Parkin, painter and writer, hosted the Q&A and credited a lot of Barbara’s success to her being a “ferociously hard worker”.
Earlier, Molly, former fashion editor of Nova, Harpers and Queen and the Sunday Times said: “I was 17 when I came to this university and I’m now 77 so I’m one of those relics. As for Barbara, she and I have been friends for 40 years and I was able to promote her – not that she needed it.
“She has always been a huge success. She should be made Dame Barbara.”
Sarah Arnett, university alumnus, runs a worldwide design business. She said: “Barbara is someone I always I absolutely admired. I never thought I would be standing in the same room as her.”
Sandy Black, former head of fashion and textiles at the university, said: “I used to shop at Biba when I first came to Brighton – I still have an original Biba suit.” Now professor of textile design and technology at the London College of Fashion, she said: “Her second shop in London was the first lifestyle store where you could buy paint and household goods. She was such a pioneer.”
Sam Davies, the university’s director of development and alumni, said: “It is always a pleasure to welcome back former students to events here at the university, but it was wonderful to have both Barbara and Molly with us for this special evening. The response this event received from the general public as well as our alumni and student body has been remarkable and we are looking forward to working with Barbara and Molly on a number of future activities.”
Mark Eley, who co-founded Eley Kishimoto global fashion and design company, and who gained a 2.1 in woven textiles at the university, said: “I only met Barbara for the first time yesterday but she’s an absolute genius and incredibly open. She is in a world of her own.”
Carly Read, managing director of Burgess Hill-based Icon Live, the global fashion and design company, works with the university to provide work experience places for students.
She said: “I was a Biba girl – and still am.”
Catherine Harper welcomed and thanked Barbara, and also thanked Brighton Museum for lending Biba clothes to display during the evening.
She said the evening was the first in a series of fashion events being planned to celebrate iconic figures in fashion.
A DVD of Beyond Biba, by November Films, goes on sale on December 7.
Malcolm Mcinnes, fashion and textiles course leader, said: “Barbarai's humble and understated commentary on all that she has achieved to date was at once charming and incisive.
“Earlier, students had an opportunity to meet the designer for a photo call, where her enthusiasm and thirsty inquisitive nature about the student experience here in the Department of Fashion and Textiles captivated them all.”