Bill Gibb

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bill Gibb
Gibb in 1976 wearing knitwear of his own design
Born(1943-01-23)23 January 1943
New Pitsligo, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Died3 January 1988(1988-01-03) (aged 44)
London, England
EducationSaint Martin's School of Art & Royal College of Art
Known forFashion design

William Elphinstone Gibb (23 January 1943 – 3 January 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 to George and Jessie (née Reid) Gibb,[2] the eldest of their seven children. Gibb, known affectionately as "Billy", was brought up by his maternal grandparents on their farm, Lochpots, near Fraserburgh. In 1960, Gibb's family bought the dairy farm at Smiddyhill in Fraserburgh, before finally settling in Netherton, in New Pitsligo.[3]

Gibb's parents retired from farmwork in 1976, and latterly ran a bed and breakfast in the village of New Pitsligo. They celebrated their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary on 27 December 2009, shortly before George Gibb's death in 2010.

He was educated at Fraserburgh Academy.[4] His teachers encouraged him to apply for art school in London, and so, in 1962, Gibb went to Saint Martin's School of Art.[4] 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,[5] the artist and textile designer Kaffe Fassett, who would remain a very close friend and design collaborator.[4] 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.[4] Between 1969 and 1972, as a freelance designer, Gibb designed for the London fashion house Baccarat.[6] 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.[6]

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.[7] 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.[7] That same year, Harrods opened a dedicated area for Gibb's designs, calling it the "Bill Gibb Room",[4] 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.[8] 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.[4][5][9]

Late 1970s gown by Bill Gibb

Gibb presented his first collection under his own name in 1972.[5] His fantastical creations were based on nature, with unexpected combinations of fur, feathers, printed leather, and brightly coloured clinging fabrics.[4] However, his most important work was in knitwear, co-designed with Kaffe Fasset and hand-knitted by Mildred Boulton.[4] 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 Boulton continued to hand-knit one-off designs.[4] During the 1970s, Gibb did take on other design commissions, including creating a range of shoe designs for the high-end shoe manufacturer Rayne.[10] Later, in the 1980s, Gibb collaborated with another Leicestershire manufacturer, Annette Carol, to produce acrylic knitwear using a jacquard technique.[4]

Gibb was not a good businessperson,[11] and his business was not financially successful, and collapsed in 1977, 1979 and 1980.[4][11]

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.[4] In 1985, he made a comeback with his "Bronze Age" collection, co-designed with Kaffe Fassett and featuring hats by Stephen Jones,[12] however it did not attract buyers.[13]

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.[14] Twiggy described him as her "knight in shining armour",[9] and as a "sweet, sunny farm boy in baggy corduroys whom I absolutely adored".[11]

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.[11]

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.[11][15] Webster, writing for the Glasgow Herald also strongly refuted these claims, pointing out that the hospital had confirmed it was bowel cancer.[14] Despite this, Bill Gibb is still sometimes listed as an AIDS death.[16]


In 2008, the designer Giles Deacon cited Bill Gibb's designs as a significant influence on his work.[17] Alongside Deacon, John Galliano has also spoken out in praise of Bill Gibb's work for reflecting the "romantic essence of British style".[9]


Bill Gibb's work is represented in the permanent collection of many museums, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London,[21] Manchester City Galleries,[22] the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool,[23] the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York,[24] 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. ^ "Geordie and Jessie Gibb celebrate 65 happy years". Buchan Observer. Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Higher Still Resource: Bill Gibb London" (PDF). Education Scotland. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  5. ^ a b c Sells, Emma. "Designers to Know: Bill Gibb". ELLE UK. Archived from the original on 2 October 2013. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
  6. ^ a b "Notable People from Fraserburgh". Visit Archived from the original on 3 October 2013. Retrieved 13 January 2013.
  7. ^ a b Wood, Holly (19 September 1998). "50 GREAT BRITISH FASHION MOMENTS". The Independent. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
  8. ^ "1970 evening dress worn by Twiggy, designed by Bill Gibb". Victoria & Albert Museum. Retrieved 13 January 2013.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ "An Afternoon with Rayne Shoes". Fashion and Textile Museum. Archived from the original on 12 June 2015. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  11. ^ a b c d e "Frock prince". The Scotsman. 31 August 2003. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
  12. ^ Moore, Jackie (21 March 1985). "Bill Gibb's Bronze Age". The Glasgow Herald. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
  13. ^ Rew, Christine. "Bill Gibb" (PDF). DATS (Dress and Textile Specialists) Journal, April 2008. DATS. Retrieved 16 January 2013.[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ a b Webster, Jack (12 January 1988). "Untitled obituary for Bill Gibb". The Glasgow Herald. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
  15. ^ "Scottish Fashion Designer Dies at 44". Associated Press News. 3 January 1988. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
  16. ^ Garner, Claire (26 November 1995). "Arts suffer most as Aids rages on". The Independent. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
  17. ^ McGlone, Jackie (14 October 2008). "Back in vogue – Bill Gibb". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 25 June 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
  18. ^ "'Bill Gibb: A Personal Journey' until October 2009 in Bath". Culture 24. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  19. ^ Lack, Jessica (1 November 2008). "Exhibition preview: Billy: Bill Gibb's Moment in Time, London". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  20. ^ "Bill Gibb – Fashion gallery at the Fraserburgh Heritage Centre". Fraserburgh Heritage Centre. Archived from the original on 23 January 2013. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  21. ^ "Bill Gibb in the collection of the V&A". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  22. ^ "Bill Gibb in the Manchester Galleries collections". Manchester Art Gallery. Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  23. ^ "Fashion in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool". National Museums Liverpool. Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  24. ^ "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.