All photos by Erin Leydon.
"British Designers are story tellers, fairytale tellers, dreamers and I think this was really the essence of the romance behind Bill Gibb" -- John Galliano
Bill Gibb is magical. His work is fantasy and fairytale that combined volume and spectacle with nature and innovation. He was crowned designer of the year by British Vogue in 1970 and from there he became one of the superstars of the 1970s. His work was flamboyant and fanciful. He was a visionary and the work he did for his mainline verged on couture.
In 1970 when he was named designer of the year he had only been out of college for just under two years and had yet to launch his own label. This seems mind boggling in retrospect but his work under the Baccarat label at the time, was so revolutionary that it captured the fashion world. I can only think to compare it to our own modern day Gucci revolution, where a designer comes out of nowhere and puts out a prolific, eclectic amount of work that just changes everything.
His pieces command high prices and rightly so. Though prolific in his output, the reality is that his best works falls over a scant ten year period. I have written about him before so won't delve too far into the details on him again. You can read that here.
For me it is the sheer beauty of his pieces that draw me to them. His creations often have a dream like quality to them. His designs are motivated by imagination. He mixed patterns and textures and stuck elements together that did not go but under his hands, worked. Historic themes are rampant throughout his work and he was an avid student of history and costume. His best piece have both these elements in them. The black dress I am wearing here has that feel of the renaissance mixed with the modern jersey of the seventies. The elaborate sequin panels add decadence and glitter. Elements Gibb loved. Versions of this very dress are held at two separate museums proving its importance for the collector, but at a certain level - who cares? It's simply a beautiful dress that when you slip on you feel fabulous in.
Gibb always wanted his collections to look different than anyone else', designing not for the time but for the story he created in his mind. "I always worked on a theme because I know there must be discipline" Gibb told British Vogue. "Picking the fabrics, making 200 rough sketches and boiling them down to 50 or 60. Sitting down in front of a blank sheet of paper is one of the most frightening things I know... because I will do anything rather then start a collection. Once I am into it, I know that's it ... I'll start getting the three o'clock in the morning urge, waking up with ideas and sketching them down, in case I forget them. I go into a sort of coma for about three months. It's the only way I can get it all together" He also said; "I always worry about repeating myself too much. I still love doing weird things. I love surprises.I love having a model come down the catwalk, very demure, and suddenly a great flash of leg or something."
He loved detail and the juxtaposition of tightness in one area and volume in another and this became a signature. The dress I wear here is a fabulous example of that and is part of why it is a valued piece for museums. The bodice has an almost strapped in corset fit and then below it is all volume. The detail on the back and front is also classic Gibb as he believe the garments should be equally beautiful from all angles. He called this the "arithmetic of design".
Prudence Glynn, the first fashion editor of The Times perhaps summed it up best: "To say that Bill Gibb's two greatest gifts are his consistency and his originality might sound a contradiction, but it is really the only way to describe his talent. Every Bill Gibb collection is categorically his own. The touches are unique, the juxtaposition of fabrics regularly amazing, and the distribution of volume of the fabric superb. At the same time his collections are consistent in their brilliance of imagination while each new and different from the one that went before."