Vintage DIY: Curiously Creative Recycling by Biba Boy, Adam Keppel
Adam from Biba-Boys rose to the challenge and recreated an original Biba dress from one of our textile bundles - the geometric patterned fabric that was used for some of the furnishings and wall coverings at the Big Biba store in Kensington High Street.
Interview with Biba Boy, Adam Keppel
In addition to exploring his slow fashion skills, I was curious to find out more about Adam’s work at Biba-Boys, the store he runs with partner, Jay, and their impressive Biba collection. The boys sell a broad mixture of items from the 1920s through to the late 1970s, including original clothing and accessories such as handbags, jewellery, plus a wide selection of original '60s and '70s Biba. Adam told me they have been collecting Biba since around 2009, having previously collected Mary Quant items. They originally started selling on Ebay, but opened their Biba-Boys store on Etsy in 2013.
The boys share the role of sourcing stock for the store, and then spend time cleaning and repairing any damage where needed. Adam then photographs and lists each item on the Etsy shop. Meantime, Jay focuses on the admin side - responding to emails, messages, questions, and order enquiries, while Adam runs the social media feeds such as Instagram.
What they most like about Biba is the diverse range of products. “When we collected Mary Quant it was nice,” says Adam, “but then became a bit samey, with yellow and black bottles everywhere and a daisy logo stamped on everything. When we were introduced to Biba by a friend, it opened our eyes up to a new world of glamorous items - even the shampoo and baked beans looked stunning on a shelf on their own. It was Barbara's eye for detail in every product she designed that ignited our passion for Biba, and made us want to collect and document as much of it as possible.”
Now in regular contact with Barbara Hulanicki, Adam explained that when they lived in Brighton, their friend Martin Pel, who was curating the Biba exhibition at the Brighton Museum, offered them tickets to the launch night of the exhibition. That was the first time he managed to meet Barbara in person. Since then, he has been lucky enough to become friends with her and they regularly email and chat via video calls or WhatsApp.
Collecting Vintage Biba
The boys’ collection of Biba extends to over a thousand items, not including the hundreds of pencils, brushes and accessories they keep as shop stock. Adam’s favourite pieces include their first shop bust, which they have owned now for roughly eight years. They also have the till cover from the shoe department, which is not featured in Biba books, but is Art Nouveau influenced, unlike the peach and clear mirrored Art Deco ones from the other floors of Big Biba, which are featured. His favourite piece of all is a simple sign that they were offered by catwalk model, Jeny Howorth. It is a small black and gold hand painted wood sign stating, "All Paint & Wallpaper, Old Stock - Old Colours,” says Adam, “I love it purely for the fact it has survived all these years, when most of these were thrown into skips during the closing sale, and it can be nicely displayed with all the original sheets of wallpaper we have in the collection.”
I wonder if it is difficult for them to part with the items they sell. “Yes, we would love to keep every item we purchase, but we would run out of room in no time. It’s satisfying that not only are we unearthing hidden gems from around the world to add to our own collection, but also helping other collectors and fans discover something they have often searched for years to find.”
Clothing and Costume Construction
The boys also sell their own branded Biba-Boys merchandise, and I was interested to know how that came about. “Years ago when I could wear a lot of the clothing we had in the collection,” says Adam, “we were fortunate enough to purchase an unworn glitter t-shirt that featured the Rainbow Room logo. I was too afraid that wearing it would ruin it, and wanted to somehow recreate these t-shirts to withstand modern washing machines. It took us a few years of sampling and testing different cottons and glitter, as a lot has changed since the '70s, but we finally got it right.”
Adam’s clothing manufacturing skills have been honed through his education. He studied BA (Hons) Costume Construction through the University Centre South Essex. The institution is linked to The Royal Opera House, a collaboration that not only provides hands-on experience, but also access to The ROH archives whenever required for researching construction processes. This gave Adam great insight into the industry standard. Partner Jay, on seeing how much Adam has enjoyed the past three years, will be studying for the same degree, starting this September.
Are there any special requirements when working with vintage clothing? “Not really, the only tip I would give anyone who wants to work with them is learn how to properly handle, clean and store them. I have seen some disasters in the past and have had a fair few accidents myself. So anyone who would want to get into doing this, I always suggest doing some research or speak to people who already are and don't be afraid to ask for help when needed.”
The Finished Dress
The reconstruction of this fab vintage Biba dress took Adam around three hours. “I wanted to spend time properly assessing what needed doing and made sure I fixed it correctly first time, especially as the collar had just been cut off instead of unpicked,” he explained. He told me the dress dates from around 1973, and is made from a printed brushed cotton similar to Viyella. The design was the leading print in most furnishing and textiles throughout the Big Biba store - including carpeting, wallpaper, sofas, and clothing. “This dress is definitely staying in our collection for now,” he says, “we have always loved the deco carpet design, so to have an item of clothing featuring it is a dream come true.”
The boys are currently restoring two original sofas from the Biba store. A friend who worked there gave them two large original curtains in the deco carpet moquette fabric to make new seat cushions with, so they are spending some time restoring these, hopefully in time for a special event they are planning next year.
They would like to keep growing the business, and potentially open a physical shop again, perhaps in or nearby Frome. As for Adam's career, he is hoping to get into TV and film wardrobe, either as a pattern cutter, maker, or supervisor’s assistant. There's a new six-part drama coming out next year on Biba that Barbara has put the boys forward to work on as well, and they can’t wait to get started.
Check out our curation of items from the Biba-Boys’ store.
Find more vintage Biba fabrics ready for up-cycling.