Born in Poland but raised in England, Barbara Hulanicki began her career in fashion in the early 1960s working as a freelance fashion illustrator. She covered all the important fashion collections for the major publications of the day, including Women's Wear Daily, British Vogue, The Times, The Observer and The Sunday Times. In 1964 she founded, with her late husband, Stephen Fitz-Simon, the boutique Biba, beginning as a small mail-order business featured in the fashion columns of newspapers such as The Daily Mirror.
The Biba success story is worthy of a Hollywood movie: a husband and wife go into business together against the advice of those around them. After a few false starts and refusing to give up, their last-ditched attempt – a pink gingham dress with a round hole in the back and a matching head scarf – strikes a chord with the public and sells thousands of units, allowing them to open a store that becomes an icon of hip 1960s and 1970s London. The Biba store became a hangout for artists, film stars and rock musicians, including Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and Marianne Faithful. The first Biba store was a small chemist in Abingdon Road, but by the time Biba's doors closed in 1976 it had evolved into an elaborate five-story art deco department store with a restaurant and roof garden overlooking High Street Kensington. The avant-garde Biba cosmetics brand sold in 33 countries across the globe.
Biba closed its doors in 1976, a victim of corporate raiding before the term had even entered business vernacular. Hulanicki continued to work in fashion, designing for the likes of Fiorucci and Cacharel. For 12 years, from 1980 to 1992, she also designed a successful line of children's wear, Minirock, licensed to the Japanese market.
In 1980, she returned to the UK from living in glamorous Brazil to open a series of clothing boutiques and start a make-up line, all under her own name. From 1980 to 1987, she dabbled in fashion photography for the London Evening Standard and returned briefly to fashion illustration to draw Sarah Ferguson's wedding dress for the London newspapers. In 1983 she wrote her memoirs in the book From A to Biba, which was published by Hutchinson's.
In 1987 she arrived in Miami Beach where she reinvented herself yet again, this time as a designer of interiors and exteriors, single-handedly reconceiving Miami Beach's then re-emerging art deco district. Her projects began with Woody's on the Beach, which she designed in 1987 for Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones. She created a series of restaurants, night clubs and super-clubs, including Who's in the Grove, Sempers, Match Club and Bolero Restaurant. From 1992 to 1997 she worked for Gloria and Emilio Estefan designing the interiors of their personal recording studios, the interiors of the Cardozo Hotel on Ocean Drive, their private home on Star Island and costumes for the music video Mi Buen Amor, as well as consulting on Bongo, the their restaurant project in Disney World, Orlando, with the Architectonica Group.