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Her father, Witold Hulanicki, was assassinated by the Stern Gang in Jerusalem in 1948, and the family moved to Brighton, England. While studying from 1954 to 1956 at the Brighton School of Art, now the University of Brighton Faculty of Arts, Hulanicki won a London Evening Standard-newspaper competition in 1955 for beachwear. She began her career in fashion as a freelance fashion illustrator for various magazines, including Vogue, Tatler and Women's Wear Daily.
Hulanicki sold her first designs through a small mail-order business that was featured in the fashion columns of newspapers such as the London Daily Mirror.
In 1964, she opened her Biba shop in the Kensington district of London with the help of her late husband, Stephen Fitz-Simon. The shop soon became known for its stylishly decadent atmosphere and lavish decor inspired by Art Nouveau and Art Deco. It became a hangout for artists, film stars and rock musicians, including Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Marianne Faithfull and Cathy McGowan, presenter of British pop/rock TV programme Ready Steady Go!. In the shop, a young clientele bought affordable mini-skirts, floppy felt hats, feather boas, velvet trouser suits and unisex tee-shirts dyed in rich, muted colours. Incidentally, Anna Wintour started in fashion as a Biba employee.
After the shop's 1975 demise, Hulanicki continued to work in the fashion industry, designing for labels such as Fiorucci and Cacharel and, from 1980 to 1992, designed a line of children's wear, Minirock, licensed to the Japanese market.
She presently resides in Miami, Florida, where she has an interior-design business, designing hotels for Chris Blackwell in Jamaica and the Bahamas. She has designed wallpaper for the Habitat store chain in Europe and is launching a fashion and home range in India and also wallpaper in her widely recognised Art Deco style for Graham & Brown.
British retailer Topshop opened a New York City store in April 2009 and, later the same month, launched a collection featuring Hulanicki's designs. For British retailer Topshop, she has produced a collection, featuring billowing chiffon dresses and blouses reminiscent of her original Biba style along with several jersey pieces printed with her original illustrations, bikinis and a cropped suede jacket. In the same month, a handbag in her Art Deco style was made by the Italian label Coccinelle.
About the design scene in 2009, Hulanicki has said: "There is very little difference today as opposed to the ‘70s; although, there is much more choice now. Both periods share the same enthusiasm, if you press the right buttons." 
In December 2013, she was the guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, where her top choice was "Walk on the Wild Side" by Lou Reed. And in September 2015, she was interviewed on the BBC TV's HARDtalk.
She has said: "Now whenever I finish something I take some photographs and say 'goodbye'. When you lose everything, you realise that the only thing you have is what's in your head."
In 2009, the British department store group House of Fraser bought the rights to the Biba label. In 2014, Hulanicki agreed to serve as a consultant for Biba, the first time since 1975 that she had been involved with her created brand.
- 'Most girls want to be thin – enjoy it while you can BBC News. 3 September 2015
- Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, "A Cold War Casualty in Jerusalem, 1948: The Assassination of Witold Hulanicki", Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs IV:3 (2010)
- "Hardeep Singh Kohli, Dr Pamela Stephenson, Alan Root, Barbara Hulanicki, Nadine Mortimer-Smith, Midweek – BBC Radio 4".
- "Biba And Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki".
- "Biba Founder Barbara Hulanicki Returns to Fashion with Topshop".
- "Heriot-Watt University News: Summer 2010" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 April 2016.
- "No. 60009". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2011. p. 11.
- "Desert Island Discs: Barbara Hulanicki". BBC. 8 December 2013. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- Bergin, Olivia (3 November 2014). "Barbara Hulanicki to return to Biba label after 39 years". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 4 November 2014.