Bill Gibb, 1943 - 1988

© Michael Leonard

Michael Leonard

Bill Gibb, 1943 - 1988


Kim Macpherson, Curatorial Administrator, Scottish National Portrait Gallery This Portrait of the Month is selected by Kim Macpherson, Curatorial Administrator, Scottish National Portrait Gallery

As a fashion design graduate and dressmaker I jumped at the chance to write about one of my favourite designers, and one of my favourite artworks in the Portrait Gallery’s collection. 

Bill Gibb was born in 1943 in Fraserburgh and lived on a dairy farm as a child. He studied at St Martin’s School of Art and the Royal College of Art during the sixties. In 1967 he opened his first boutique and in 1970 he won the Vogue designer of the year award. His outfits were handcrafted and original works of art; each piece could take months to complete. He used patchwork, embroidery, beading and appliqué to create design masterpieces. Gibb was inspired by the Medieval and Renaissance periods and European folk costume and worked closely with Kaffe Fassett, the knitwear and fabric designer.

Gibb was one of the greats of seventies fashion. His designs were the epitome of the age and as a child of the seventies I wore many outfits inspired by his designs. During the power dressing eighties his designs began to go out of fashion; his last collection was in 1986, although he continued to work for private clients. He died of cancer in 1988—he was only 44.

In Michael Leonard’s beautiful trompe l’oeil pencil drawing, Gibb is convincingly fashioned as a Renaissance or Tudor gentleman, as seen in portraits by Steven van der Meulen. The drawing has been created as an illustration or fashion plate, unceremoniously ripped out from an antique book. This adds to the illusion that the sitter was indeed a gentleman from the 16th Century. The artist made a series of drawings of this kind, placing contemporary sitters in a different time from their own and matching their physical appearance to the work of famous (historical) artists so that the sitters did not look out of place. Here Leonard pictures Gibb in an era and costume which the sitter had studied and loved.