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There’s a lot in a name that you know

Jessica Brown

This week Barbara Hulanicki issued a stinging attack on department store chain House of Fraser’s relaunch of the Biba brand she founded, and used the blaze of publicity to announce her own design deal with George at Asda (as revealed exclusively on Drapersonline.com, September 29).

This week Barbara Hulanicki issued a stinging attack on department store chain House of Fraser’s relaunch of the Biba brand she founded, and used the blaze of publicity to announce her own design deal with George at Asda (as revealed exclusively on Drapersonline.com, September 29).

That’s certainly one way to get some attention. Almost as much as the low-priced interpretation of the gingham Brigitte Bardot dress and the autumnal printed smocks Biba and Hulanicki made their names with in London’s Kensington in the 1960s.

And that’s the thing. House of Fraser’s Biba is pretty far removed from the original brand values. Its prices range from £75 to £350, it targets shoppers north of 25 and has a curvy Daisy Lowe as its face. Original Biba targeted Twiggy-esque, stick-thin teens and 20-year-olds who had not much more than a stitch to spend on their wardrobe. This 1960s Biba marked the birth of hip value fashion and has certainly influenced the shape of today’s fast-fashion high street.

Hulanicki, who lost ownership of the Biba trademark in the 1970s, insists Hof’s collection is “too expensive” while HoF have some pretty compelling evidence that it isn’t (see p3). Sales of the range hit £1m on Thursday, just three weeks after a heavily publicised launch.

It is possible to reinvent a brand but successful reinventions tend to be based around core heritage - take Burberry, for example. HoF may be forced to think a bit broader about its Biba collection, which is currently built around maxi dresses, come spring 11. It needs options, catwalk-excitement, superb value and some seriously heavyweight marketing if it is to compete with a vocal Hulanicki and supermarket price guarantees in the long term.

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