Bill Gibb

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Bill Gibb
Bill Gibb 1976.jpg
Bill Gibb in 1976 wearing knitwear of his own design
Born William Elphinstone Gibb
(1943-01-23)23 January 1943
New Pitsligo, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Died 3 January 1988(1988-01-03) (aged 44)
Cause of death Colorectal cancer
Residence London
Nationality Scottish
Education Saint Martin's School of Art & Royal College of Art
Known for Fashion design

William Elphinstone "Bill" Gibb (1943–1988) was a Scottish fashion designer who became renowned in the 1960s and 70s for his unusual and flattering designs.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Gibb was born near New Pitsligo, a small village in Aberdeenshire in Scotland,[2] and was educated at Fraserburgh Academy.[3] His teachers encouraged him to apply for art school in London, and so, in 1962, Gibb went to Saint Martin's School of Art.[3] After graduating top of his class, Gibb was awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, but before completing his degree, he left to start up in business.[2]

Fashion design[edit]

In 1967 Gibb was one of six young designers invited to present their designs in New York, which led to a three-month research tour of the United States with his then boyfriend,[4] the artist and textile designer Kaffe Fassett, who would remain a very close friend and design collaborator.[3] On his return to London, Gibb and a group of friends had co-founded the Alice Paul boutique, for which Gibb designed typically late 1960s outfits of miniskirts and long coats, whilst his friends handled the marketing and manufacture.[3] Between 1969–1972, as a freelance designer, Gibb designed for the London fashion house Baccarat.[5] In 1972 Gibb launched his own company, Bill Gibb Fashion Group, which ran until 1988, and in 1975 he opened his first shop in London, on Bond Street.[5]

Beatrix Miller of Vogue selected one of Gibb's designs for Baccarat, a pleated tartan skirt and printed blouse worn with a Kaffe Fassett knitted waistcoat, as the 1970 Dress of the Year.[6] Gibb's design was described as the epitome of the new emerging trend for romantic eclecticism in British fashion design, as well as demonstrating how traditional handicrafts, such as hand-knits, were becoming acceptable for mainstream fashion.[6] That same year, Harrods opened a dedicated area for Gibb's designs, calling it the "Bill Gibb Room",[3] and the model Twiggy approached Gibb to create several historically-inspired dresses for her. She wore a "Renaissance" evening dress featuring printed textiles based on 1520s Hans Holbein drawings to the Daily Mirror's Fashion Celebrity Dinner in 1970.[7] Another gown made from various patterned textiles that Twiggy wore to the 1971 film première of The Boy Friend drew a great deal of media attention.[3][4][8]

Late 1970s gown by Bill Gibb

Gibb presented his first collection under his own name in 1972.[4] His fantastical creations were based on nature, with unexpected combinations of fur, feathers, printed leather, and brightly coloured clinging fabrics.[3] However, his most important work was in knitwear, co-designed with Kaffe Fasset and hand-knitted by Mildred Bolton.[3] Due to massive demand, Gibb found a manufacturer in Leicestershire who was willing to take on the challenge of machine-knitting Fassett's extraordinarily complicated, multi-coloured woollen designs, although Bolton continued to hand-knit one-off designs.[3] During the 1970s, Gibb did take on other design commissions, including creating a range of shoe designs for the high-end shoe manufacturer Rayne.[9] Later, in the 1980s, Gibb collaborated with another Leicestershire manufacturer, Annette Carol, to produce acrylic knitwear using a jacquard technique.[3]

Gibb was not a good businessperson,[10] and his business was not financially successful, and collapsed in 1977, 1979 and 1980.[3][10]

By the 1980s, he was producing small capsule collections as well as designing for individual private clients, and licensing his name to manufacturers and promotions, including a mail-order ensemble for readers of the UK magazine Women's Journal.[3] In 1985, he made a comeback with his "Bronze Age" collection, co-designed with Kaffe Fassett and featuring hats by Stephen Jones,[11] however it did not attract buyers.[12]

Personal life and death[edit]

Gibb was described as "one of the most gentle, kindly and considerate human beings I have ever met" and a "man without malice" by the journalist Jack Webster.[13] Twiggy described him as her "knight in shining armour",[8] and as a "sweet, sunny farm boy in baggy corduroys whom I absolutely adored".[10]

For a while in the late 1960s Gibb was in a relationship with Kaffe Fassett, who remained a close friend and colleague to the end.[10]

At the time of Gibb's death of bowel cancer in 1988, the Daily Mail reported that he died of AIDS, which was strongly denied by his friends and family.[10][14] Webster, writing for the Glasgow Herald also strongly refuted these claims, pointing out that the hospital had confirmed it was bowel cancer.[13] Despite this, Bill Gibb is still sometimes listed as an AIDS death.[15]


In 2008, the designer Giles Deacon cited Bill Gibb's designs as a significant influence on his work.[16] Alongside Deacon, John Galliano has also spoken out in praise of Bill Gibb's work for reflecting the "romantic essence of British style".[8]


Bill Gibb's work is represented in the permanent collection of many museums, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London,[20] Manchester City Galleries,[21] the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool,[22] the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York,[23] as well as those listed above.


  1. ^ a b "Collection of fashion drawings by Bill Gibb, Aberdeen Art Gallery. Art Funded in 1997". The Art Fund. Retrieved 7 January 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Ruffling fashion feathers: Gray's students donate outfit inspired by North-east designer to Aberdeen Art Gallery". Robert Gordon University. Retrieved 7 January 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Higher Still Resource: Bill Gibb London" (PDF). Education Scotland. Retrieved 7 January 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c Sells, Emma. "Designers to Know: Bill Gibb". ELLE UK. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "Notable People from Fraserburgh". Visit Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Wood, Holly (19 September 1998). "50 GREAT BRITISH FASHION MOMENTS". The Independent. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  7. ^ "1970 evening dress worn by Twiggy, designed by Bill Gibb". Victoria & Albert Museum. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  8. ^ a b c Menkes, Suzy (24 November 2008). "Bill Gibb: A bittersweet story of a forgotten designer". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  9. ^ "An Afternoon with Rayne Shoes". Fashion and Textile Museum. Retrieved 1 June 2015. 
  10. ^ a b c d e "Frock prince". The Scotsman. 31 August 2003. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  11. ^ Moore, Jackie (21 March 1985). "Bill Gibb's Bronze Age". The Glasgow Herald. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  12. ^ Rew, Christine. "Bill Gibb" (PDF). DATS (Dress and Textile Specialists) Journal, April 2008. DATS. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  13. ^ a b Webster, Jack (12 January 1988). "Untitled obituary for Bill Gibb". The Glasgow Herald. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  14. ^ "Scottish Fashion Designer Dies at 44". Associated Press. 3 January 1988. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  15. ^ Garner, Claire (26 November 1995). "Arts suffer most as Aids rages on". The Independent. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  16. ^ McGlone, Jackie (14 October 2008). "Back in vogue – Bill Gibb". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 25 June 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  17. ^ "'Bill Gibb: A Personal Journey' until October 2009 in Bath". Culture 24. Retrieved 7 January 2013. 
  18. ^ Lack, Jessica (1 November 2008). "Exhibition preview: Billy: Bill Gibb's Moment In Time, London". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 January 2013. 
  19. ^ "Bill Gibb – Fashion gallery at the Fraserburgh Heritage Centre". Fraserburgh Heritage Centre. Retrieved 7 January 2013. 
  20. ^ "Bill Gibb in the collection of the V&A". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 7 January 2013. 
  21. ^ "Bill Gibb in the Manchester Galleries collections". Manchester Art Gallery. Retrieved 21 September 2016. 
  22. ^ "Fashion in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool". National Museums Liverpool. Retrieved 21 September 2016. 
  23. ^ "Suit Bill Gibb (British, 1943–1988)". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 7 January 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bill Gibb : a tribute to the fashion designer of the 70s. City of Aberdeen, City Arts Department. 1990. ISBN 9780900017254. 
  • Webb, Iain R. (2008). Bill Gibb : fashion and fantasy. London: V&A. ISBN 978-1851775484.