Miniskirt to mortar board

Barbara Hulanicki began her career in fashion in the early 1960s, working as a freelance fashion illustrator. In 1964, she founded the boutique Biba, which became an icon of 60s and 70s London.
Her successful and varied career has also involved the Biba cosmetics brand, fashion photography, costume design for stage and film and product design, including jewellery for the Victoria and Albert Museum, luxury handbags for Coccinelle, and wallpaper, rugs and pillows for Habitat. From1990 Barbara has redesigned top hotels in the Caribbean and Miami, where she now lives.
Barbara Hulanicki received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Design from the School of Art & Design at the University of Wolverhampton 2008 Graduation ceremonies.

How do you feel about receiving an honorary degree from the University of Wolverhampton?

I am absolutely thrilled and delighted. It is just lovely to receive this award.

Why do you think it is important to study art and design at University?

I think education in the UK is amazing, especially when you look at other countries where it is lacking. The fashion business is tough and it is also important to gain understanding of how business works after you leave university or art college.

How do you think the fashion business has evolved since the 1960s?

I think it is really scary and is so fast for the sake of being fast, especially in the big corporate businesses – I think the public can’t keep up with it!
The 60s generation opened up the word DESIGN. Design was thought of as something quirky, mad and something you distrusted. Now it is seen as an asset. It was hard and very tough then – there was very little around to buy so you had to produce it yourself.

What advice would you give to students entering the fashion business today?

Understand how the bottom lines works. Find a company that you admire, a really big company, and you can learn about how things move. Some of the big companies seem like dinosaurs, but it is quite good to see how dinosaurs function. Some have lost touch with the public, and I would say you need to listen to what people want and how they react to it.

What is the greatest achievement of your career?

It is still to come! I still have the ambition to keep growing and take on as many projects as possible. You learn so much.

You have met some very famous people – Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Marianne Faithful to name a few – who was the most memorable and why?

Twiggy – she has always been real, all along.

You have also worked on some major interior design projects, including designs for Gloria Estefan. What projects do you enjoy?

Interior designs can take two years and most of that time is spent dealing with carpenters and plumbers, with a little bit of design at the end. But I do like doing hotels because it is like doing shops, without putting the clothes in!

You have had a varied career – what has been your favourite thing to work on?

I do like clothes – I love retail, and I miss that terribly because you are in touch with the public all the time.

In your opinion, what makes a great design?

A great design is easy on the eye and people can understand it – that means you have hit the nail on the head. You are often designing ahead of time and the mind of the public changes so much so you don’t actually know what the feeling may be.

Who do you think has great fashion sense today?

Kate Moss – she is wonderful. She has huge knowledge of great expensive stuff, and then translates it to the mass thing really well. She has a fantastic grounding. Also, in America, people are frightened of putting on the wrong thing, but in England it is more individual and eccentric. Thank goodness for the word vintage!

Which designers do you admire?

Alexander McQueen and Prada.

Finally, do you have a message for the School of Art & Design students who graduated at the same ceremony as you in September?

I just wish everybody lots of luck!