ONE OF DESIGNER Bella Freud's earliest memories of her mother was watching her get ready for her 21st birthday party (Freud was three at the time). 'She put on a silver A-line mini dress with long sleeves and silver Wellington boots,' she recalls. The outfit was by Biba, but the influence of that dress, and a Biba pink elephant cord short mac Freud was given as a teenager, is clear now that she's been enlisted as creative director to spearhead the return of the fashion label. It's been more than 30 years since Biba closed the doors on its famous art deco store in London's Kensington High Street. This glamorously decadent emporium, with its coat stands of plum-coloured clothes, swishing boas, and sooty eye makeup, defined the 1960s as much as the Mini, the miniskirt, and the Beatles. Biba was an extraordinary shopping experience, dominated over its 11-year life by the personality of creator Barbara Hulanicki. The Polish-born former fashion illustrator and her husband, Stephen Fitzsimon, wanted to make fashion affordable, edgy and inspiring, and to turn shopping into a social event. There had been nothing like it before and, in many respects, nothing like it since. Biba pioneered the idea of accessible fashion for all, but particularly for the fashion-starved, skimpy-pursed youth of the day. An office girl could find herself rifling through the same clothes rack as Julie Christie, Twiggy or Anita Pallenberg. And the look didn't just appeal to women; their boyfriends would hang out on the sofas in the shop and sometimes take a shine to the clothes themselves. Pallenberg's boyfriend Keith Richards used to wear her Biba jackets on stage. 'You could spot a Biba girl in the street. There was a definite Biba look,' says Hulanicki's photographic collaborator James Wedge. 'It was the plum lips and dark eyes, a very 30s art deco look.' One of his photographs of an alluring nude in a red, veiled pillbox hat lying on cushions became a billboard at Heathrow Airport, but was torn down for distracting drivers. Long-haired and sooty-eyed Biba girls such as Caroline Baker, now fashion director of You Magazine in London, would save their wages for the weekly pilgrimage to the store and join queues snaking down the road outside the shop. 'Whether wearing maxis or minis - the Biba gear was the coolest,' she says. Hulanicki's unique spin on fashion was a blend of art deco, Victorian femininity and Hollywood glamour, with a dash of rock'n'roll rebelliousness. It's this mood that Freud, the daughter of painter Lucien Freud, wants to evoke in the relaunch of the label this autumn. She has immersed herself in the archives, visited collectors and sifted through images of the day to capture that unique essence of the brand. 'It was great to work with the original pieces,' says Freud. 'The crucial thing is the fit. It was narrow, tight and incredibly tiny.' Hulanicki mixed 30s and Victorian styles to elongate the torso and make the body look thinner. In fact, Hulanicki would take her sinuous cut to extremes: Jenny Dingemans, Biba's first press officer recalls just how small Biba's clothes were. 'I remember getting stuck in one dress which I couldn't unzip, even using a coat hanger, so I went to bed in it.' Michael Pearce, the fashion entrepreneur behind the revival of the brand regards Biba as 'possibly the greatest post-war fashion brand in England'. There was an unsuccessful attempt to revive the label 10 years ago by a Hong Kong businesswoman. Hulanicki wasn't involved in that effort, or in the present one. She's now based in Miami working with Island Records' Chris Blackwell on revamping some of the city's art deco hotels. The timing for this launch, however, feels right as fashion's love affair with the 60s continues - for instance, Sienna Miller's role as Edie Sedgwick in Factory Girl, Top Shop's recent collaboration with print designer Celia Birtwell and the Biba influence on many collections this season, including Gucci and Anna Sui. 'A lot of designers have been influenced by Biba in recent years and the soul of the label was being pilfered,' says Pearce. The collection needs to be a homage, with classic pieces being updated in newer more expensive fabrics, he says, but sees it evolving with Freud bringing her idiosyncratic cool to the brand. 'I've picked that moment in the 70s when clothes were elaborate but very wearable,' says Freud, who's updated the pink elephant cord coat of her teens in black. The collection includes an Edwardian meets 40s black crepe dress with lots of buttons up the front worn with a turban, a lurex mini-dress with bell sleeves and a skull cap, fluid trousers and tie-neck tops, and a grape-coloured printed jersey dress. It will be available at hip boutiques around the world, including Maria Luisa and Lane Crawford in Hong Kong. Freud's friend Kate Moss placed an order for an outfit when the range previewed in Paris in March and has been photographed wearing it - a little teddy dress with ballooning sleeves, teamed with shorts. Working with Freud are jewellery designer Fiona Knapp (Pearce's partner), French milliner Christine Bec and shoe designer Tony Cappiello, who's recreated the distinctive suede boots, platform slingbacks and Edwardian laced shoes. The prices, however, are no revival of the old Biba. While the original was 'cheap as chips' as one former customer remembers, the updated version is in classier fabrics, better made and much more upmarket. The split seams are long gone, but hopefully not the fondness with which the brand was regarded. People go misty-eyed with memories of the original Biba in Kensington's Abingdon Road, which opened in 1964. Big Biba, in Kensington High Street, the last of the four shops and the most ambitious, was opened in 1973 with its flamingo-populated roof gardens, grand art deco layout and dark, mysterious atmosphere. It's remembered in the publication this month of Welcome to Big Biba: Inside the Most Beautiful Store in the World, by Steven Thomas and Alwyn W. Turner. It chronicles how Hulanicki and Fitzsimon were way ahead of the game because they were the first high street retailer to understand the value of creating a brand. The distinctive art deco gold on black logo created by Antony Little was used on everything from clothes, to food packaging to wallpaper. Although not involved, Hulanicki met the relaunch team earlier this year. 'She said,' recounts Pearce, 'she'd dreamt she was going to make a fortune out of black nail polish and Fitz was going to make his out of baked bean cans.' They didn't. The question now is will Pearce make his out of a revamped Biba.