Four issues of the innovative Biba mail order catalogues


Biba (firm); Hulanicki, Barbara (designer); Newton, Helmut (photography).
[Four issues of the innovative Biba mail order catalogues]London: Biba, 1969. 

All four of the ground-breaking, and notoriously scarce, Biba mail order catalogues for the year 1969; two previous issues from 1968 were all that were otherwise published. Each copy with gilt Biba logo to front wrapper (35.5 x 18 cm.) and terms to versos, with photographically-illustrated contents printed in duotones (and spread across wrappers' versos). Each copy includes branded mail order slips (un-used). Wrappers showing general edgewear, with dates lightly inscribed to top of front panels; contents otherwise remarkably well-preserved. Issues include:
(1) February 1969, photographed by Hans Feuer, with model Stephanie Farrow. Bluish-green self-wrappers, containing four leaves, two of them folding (for a total of 16 panels);
(2) May 1969, photographed by Helmut Newton, with models Donna Mitchell and Ingemari Johanson. Green self-wrappers, containing four leaves, two of them folding (16 panels). With minor discolouration to rear;
(3) June 1969, photographed by Harry Peccinotti, with model Elizabeth Bjorn Neilson. Ochre self-wrappers, containing four leaves, two of them folding (16 panels). Minor discolouration to rear wrapper;
and (4) September 1969, photographed by Sarah Moon, with models Marie Knopka and Quinilla. Brown self-wrappers, with rear-wrapper being a fold-out, containing four, two of them folding (18 panels).

In 1968, Barbara Hulanicki sought to expand the success of her Biba fashion brand by returning to her roots; having made her first sales in 1963 as Biba's Postal Boutique, through an ad placed in the Daily Express. She tasked designer John McConnell to develop a new style of mail order catalogue, modeled on "the atmosphere of a magazine editorial." McConnell proceeded to break the rules then- prevalent for the catalogue: with each of the six issues featuring a thematic collection designed by Hulanicki exclusively for the catalogue  and captured by the hyper-stylised lenses of notable photographers, including Helmut Newton for the May 1969 issue. Even the format was innovative; McConnell is said to have selected the tall and slim proportions so that the catalogues could be slipped through British mail-slots, without being bent by postal workers. The present group contains all four of the issues from 1969, which followed after two issues released in April and October of 1968. Following the last issue here, photographed so-strikingly by Sarah Moon (September 1969), Biba discontinued its mail order model, having become a victim to its own success (e.g. unable to keep-up with orders, needing to hire extra employees to respond to mail, etc).

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