Bill Gibb: Fashion, Fantasy, Bees, and a Curious Conundrum

Free-spirited designer of fantastical Medieval and Renaissance inspired gowns worn by a celebrity clientele that included Bianca Jagger and Elizabeth Taylor, Bill Gibb became Vogue’s Designer of the Year in 1970, just a couple of years after graduating from the Royal College of Art, before he had even launched his own label. Gibb became an inspiration to fashion designers of the future like John Galliano, who said, “British designers are story tellers, fairytale tellers, dreamers, and I think this was really the essence of the romance behind Bill Gibb.” The designer also took an avid interest in fashion history and was a consummate craftsman.

Ahead of his time in so many ways, Gibb’s designs often featured a bumblebee motif, which became his trademark. Giles Deacon declared his love of Gibb’s embroidered bees and gold bee buttons and Christopher Bailey, the recipient of RCA scholarship funds provided by Gibb’s parents, said Bill “understood all the components of real fashion design – drape, fabric, texture, cut, knitwear and even branding with that little bee.” For Gibb’s extraordinary 10th Anniversary collection on 18th November, 1977, publicity material declared that, “The Albert Hall will be buzzing…” Indeed it was, as five thousand people attended the fashion show “like no other.”

ShopCurious is pleased to have a leather waistcoat by the late designer, featuring his famous bee emblem, both embroidered on the collar, and on enamel buttons, as part of our Late Summer Gold collection. Do take a look at this rare and outstanding example of Gibb’s work, which is in near perfect vintage condition.

Research for this post comes from the highly recommended book, Fashion and Fantasy by Iain R Webb, as well as a series of fascinating podcasts created by Scottish writer and performance artist Shane Strachan, as part of the Bill Gibb Line project. Well worth a listen, here

I also have a small private collection of fashion illustrations by Bill Gibb. There is one particular sketch that remains something of a mystery.

I’m curious to know why the drawing from Spring ’73 is signed on 15th April 1986, and inscribed with the message “For Dallas, with much love and affection, aye, Billy x." The handwriting is not entirely clear, and 'Dallas' could in fact be another name? A further enigma is the script in the bottom right hand corner, where it says “ETRO a/w 19th urgent.” Please do get in touch if you are able to shed any more light on the story and provenance behind this intriguing sketch. Will you?