Late afternoon in the garden, as we watched the birds hover above the lawn like over-sized hummingbirds plucking insects from the air, two women appeared in the lower field.
At first they seemed like lost children drifting silently towards us from a scene in The Amazing Mr Blunden. They’d come to check out our casista (they were staying in its ‘sister’ property nearby – about ten times the size).
Next morning we had breakfast together. After ordering coffee and tostadas and a bit of chat we joked: ‘Had they remembered the Sixties?’.
It turned out that one of the lovely women with us was Rosie Young who, in the Sixties, was one of the Biba Twins – beautiful and widely-photographed – who certainly had their 15 minutes of fame.
We know something of the Swinging Sixties – the fashion (including Biba, the iconic boutique) the music and so on – but not the twins.
Rosie had been working in Harvey Nichols in the shoe department (where she first saw Twiggy) and spotted an advertisement – ‘Shop Assistants wanted at Biba’. Telling her sister Susy, who was ‘lying around the flat all day’, Susy got a job there. After telling her boss she had a twin sister, Rosie joined Biba straight after – no interview needed!
And then it all took off. The twins became the unofficial face of Biba and were in demand by photographers (they were snapped by David Bailey) although, as Rosie says: ‘We were shop girls, not models.’
Despite this they appeared in countless magazines of the time. Rosie recently bought a pile of 60s magazines without even looking through them. Later, and not to her surprise, she found pictures of herself and her sister.
Biba on Kensington Church Street was THE place to go. It attracted the rich and famous – actors, pop stars and musicians, including the Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Rosie remembered Brigitte Bardot and Princess Anne caused the biggest stir when they visited.
Biba could boast Yoko Ono, Mia Farrow, Marc Bolan (who wore a Biba sequinned jacket, presumably made for women), and Cher among its customers.
The twins had many admirers of course and were often invited to premieres – ‘Rent a crowd’, Rosie said modestly.
If you love Topshop and the like, you have Biba founder Barbara Hulanicki (and her amazing shop girls of course!) to thank. They helped blaze a trail, snapping London out of its postwar, sartorial gloom.
Developing an early love of books (including design and illustration), Rosie got into the trade and currently runs Bridport Old Books in Dorset.
Sadly, her sister, Susy, died just over twenty years ago.
It was only an hour or so with Gill and Rosie, but what great company. With sparkling, smiling eyes and a shy manner – it’s easy to see why Rosie caused her own stir with sister Susy decades earlier.
Below is a collage of photographs we’ve found (copyright info hard to find but will credit as necessary*). We have to be honest, we’re unsure if it’s Rosie or Susy in some of them! But Susy is, of course, as much a part of the story – it’s a shame she’s not here to tell her tale too. (We know it’s Rosie in the middle picture, top row, though.)
Beneath this is the cover of Petticoat magazine from 1966 and surely features the Biba Twins? – we’re awaiting Rosie’s confirmation. There’s a short film about Biba too.
[Update September 2013: Rosie, via Jess (daughter of Susy), has confirmed it is them – Rosie behind.]
* Botton left pic (1964) Philip Townsend, Bottom right pic (1966), Caroline Gillies.
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