Gibbs Family Tree

Obituaries and Press Articles following Christopher Henry Gibbs death on 28th July 2018

Return to TopThe Times July 31 2018 - Christopher Gibbs obituary

Gibbs in 2006 with some of his antiques in one of the sales rooms of Christies in London

One night in the summer of 1968 Christopher Gibbs was partying hard with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards at a South Kensington nightclub. At about 2am Gibbs suggested that they adjourn to Stonehenge to watch the sun rise.

Piling into Richards’s chauffeur- driven Bentley with the two Stones, Marianne Faithfull and the American singer Gram Parsons, the party arrived just in time to watch the sun come up over the prehistoric monument, “all gibbering with acid”, as Gibbs put it. Still high on LSD, they went to a pub in Salisbury and breakfasted on kippers.

It was a typical day in the life of the extraordinary antiques dealer and socialite, whose appetite for drugs earned the admiration of Richards, who conceded that even he could not keep up. “He was crazy,” Richards recalled in his memoir Life. “He’s the only guy I know who would wake up and break an amyl nitrate popper under his nose . . . He was an adventurous lad. He was ready to jump into the unknown.”

Richards particularly enjoyed staying at Gibbs’s apartment at Cheyne Walk on the Embankment, not only because of the endless supply of illicit substances, but also because he could indulge in the remarkable library. “I could just sit around, look at beautiful first editions and great illustrations and paintings and stuff that I hadn’t had time to get into,” Richards recalled.

Gibbs was equally prominent in the bohemian expat scene in Morocco. Brian Jones and Anita Pallenberg stayed there in 1966 and, after swapping one Rolling Stone for another, Pallenberg spent Christmas 1967 there with Richards and Gibbs. Almost inevitably, Gibbs was present at Richards’s home at West Wittering, West Sussex, in 1967 during the drug raid that led to Jagger and Richards receiving jail sentences.

Yet Gibbs was more than a mere drug buddy to the Stones. He helped Jagger to secure the high-society introductions that he craved; showed him around the “palaces and estates” of rural England when he was looking to buy a place; and introduced him to Prince Rupert Loewenstein, who became the group’s financial manager.

Beyond the Stones and their associates Gibbs had a far wider circle, acting as style guru and playmate to many who occupied fashionable society in the 1960s, whether or not they could remember being there. His antiques shop off Sloane Avenue in Chelsea furnished with great treasures the mansions of a generation that also included John Paul Getty Jr and Lord Rothschild.

He was once described as “part Montesquieu, part Beau Brummell and part Baudelaire”, while the writer James Delingpole noted that “with his silvery hair, well-cut but rumpled suit, and diffident, vaguely ecclesiastical air, he more closely resembles an Anglican dean than an acid-tripping ex-roué once known as the king of Chelsea”.

In short, Gibbs was a purveyor of exceptional and intriguing pieces who believed that taste itself was not something that could be learnt. “It’s something you catch,” he said, “like measles or religion.” His position as a style guru was assured when he became an editor of Men in Vogue, which was published between 1965 and 1970, coinciding with the “peacock revolution” in English men’s fashion. Being a dandy is what he excelled at. “You had to be monumentally narcissistic and have time on your hands, and just about enough money to do it,” he declared.

Christopher Henry Gibbs was born in 1938; he had a twin sister and four older brothers. The family had made its fortune in the guano industry (or, as the rhyme put it: “Mr Gibbs/ Made his dibs/ Selling the turds/ Of foreign birds”). His father was Sir Geoffrey Cokayne Gibbs, a senior civil servant during the war who in peacetime became chairman of Antony Gibbs & Sons, the family’s merchant bank; his uncle, Sir Humphrey Gibbs, was governor of Rhodesia during the Unilateral Declaration of Independence.

In 1947 Sir Geoffrey inherited the rambling Manor House and estate at Clifton Hampden, Oxfordshire, which had been in the family since the 1840s. Young Christopher recalled a childhood spent boating on the Thames, swimming and shooting, while also describing the thrill of pressing his young face up against antique-shop windows. He visited Christie’s auctions when still in grey flannel shorts; by 14 he was sporting velvet slippers and a monocle on a blue ribbon.

At 15 he was expelled from Eton for “various offences . . . illicit drinking, panty raids of other boys’ rooms — that sort of thing”. His crimes included organising a group of boys to pilfer books from Ma Brown’s antiquarian bookshop and sell them back to her.

He was obliged to finish his schooling at Stanbridge Earls in Hampshire, which he described as “a school for sensitive, difficult boys”. It was followed by his first job, as an estate agent for Knight Frank & Rutley. This was interrupted by National Service with the army, but he lasted only three months before being “booted out” as medically unfit (as a child he had polio).

There were brief studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, while back in London he lived opposite St Paul’s Cathedral, engaging in a dubious flirtation with the property business. At 20, and with £10,000 from his mother, he set up as an antiques dealer, returning from buying trips to Morocco with “rugs, lamps, djellabas, wall hangings and the name of the best hash dealer in Tangier”.

Gibbs with Mick Jagger

Gibbs with Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull in Dublin, 1967

His first shop, opened in 1958, was a small place in Camden Passage, a narrow, flagstoned alley in Islington. By 1962 he had moved to larger premises in Elystan Street, Chelsea, where his stock was distinguished by an eclectic richness. By now the charming and sociable Gibbs was at the heart of the fashionable Chelsea set. He was, by one estimation, “the most avant-garde dresser this country has ever had”, favouring a flared trouser as early as 1961 and with a wardrobe that mixed clothes brought back from north Africa with the colourful reinvention of traditional British tailoring found at places such as Blades in Dover Street.

His flat in Cheyne Walk hosted many of the gatherings of that well-heeled bohemia, as well as providing the set for a marijuana-smoking party scene in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up (1966). Through shared acquaintances and Mrs Beaton’s Tent in Frith Street, a common Soho haunt, his circle came to include the Stones, whom he described as “merry company, funny, irreverent and open-minded”.

He acted as a travel guide around Britain and Ireland for Jagger, who in turn taught him to drive and asked him to be godfather to one of his children. Gibbs took the singer and Marianne Faithfull to stay with Desmond and Mariga Guinness at Leixlip Castle in Co Kildare and in 1968 it was Gibbs who was responsible for naming one of the era’s classic albums: the Rolling Stones’s Beggars Banquet.

That same year he acted as designer on Nic Roeg’s notorious film Performance, creating decadent sets for the rooms of the fading rock-star Turner, played by Jagger with Pallenberg in attendance. “There was so much hashish being smoked and so much acid being dropped it’s hard to remember the decade, let alone the film,” Gibbs remarked. His romantic associations included a brief involvement with Rudolf Nureyev, whom he described as “quite vigorous and stagy”.

In 1971 Gibbs moved to 118 New Bond Street, where he remained for almost 20 years, before moving to Vigo Street and then, in 1998, to Dove Walk, Pimlico. In all these buildings Gibbs displayed the wonderful objects, often with extraordinary price tags, found in the upper reaches of the London antiques trade. The Englishness of the stock was enriched by different traditions and important objects, often bearing an impressive provenance, and mixed with items chosen because they were beautiful, rare or curious.

He relished the histories of Britain’s landed families, his intuitive eye for objects of interest supported by a deep knowledge of sales and catalogues that allowed him to make discoveries hidden to others. The architectural historian John Harris once suggested that were Gibbs to find himself on a desert island, the book he would most like to have accompany him would be his uncle’s annotated copy of the Complete Peerage. “I like things with a past — and people, too,” Gibbs said.

His homes also revealed his gift for decoration: his houses in Morocco; his apartments in Cheyne Walk and Albany; his country house, Davington Priory, and, after 1980, the family’s Manor House, which, despite being the youngest son, he inherited because none of his siblings wished to move back.

His style proved widely influential, especially in America, and affected the appearance of the glossy interior-design magazines, such as World of Interiors, launched in the 1980s. His knowledge and judgment were highly prized and he was a trustee of the charitable trust established by his friend John Paul Getty Jr, served on the arts panel of the National Trust, and advised the Victoria & Albert Museum on the refurbishment of its British galleries.

In 2000, after the death of his 90-year-old housekeeper, Gibbs decided that he no longer needed the rambling spaces of the Manor House. Among the objects in a two-day sale held in a vast tent on the lawn were a Victorian stuffed two-headed lamb. Before leaving for good he erected on a plinth a worn-out pinnacle from the chapel at Eton College, which he had acquired through “one of the beaks”. The Latin inscription explained that both he and the pinnacle had been expelled.

His final destination was Tangier, where he established an elegant home and garden on one of the mountain slopes overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar. One visitor described him there as “wearing wonderful kaftans”, adding: “And he looked like Moses walking in the olive garden — very peaceful.” There were, however, some things that he missed about England, he said, adding: “I get homesick for snowdrops.”

Christopher Gibbs, antiques dealer, was born on July 29, 1938. He died on July 28, 2018, aged 79

Return to TopThe Telegraph 30 July 2018 - Christopher Gibbs, dandy, antiques dealer, aesthete and friend of Mick Jagger  – obituary

Christopher Gibbs
Christopher Gibbs in 1964

Christopher Gibbs, who has died aged 79, was an antiques dealer, interior designer, bibliophile and aesthete who pioneered a style of interior decoration often described as “distressed bohemian” – a mixture of refinement, exoticism and well-worn grandeur.

A typical Gibbs interior might comprise a carefully chosen assemblage of fine Georgian furniture, threadbare sofas, Chinese blue-and-white ceramics, antique objets, church hangings, carpets from the Maghreb and vibrantly clashing cushions and drapes. It was a look that took years of antiquarian scholarship, poring through the sales catalogues of auction houses, and eye-watering prices to achieve. But Gibbs insisted that his aim was “to help people make nice, cosy homes where they are going to live happy, beautiful lives” – adding, “No, it’s not tongue-in-cheek. I mean it.”

A quietly spoken man of considerable erudition and great personal warmth, Gibbs became the arbiter of taste for a wealthy clientele that ran the gamut from rock stars to aristocrats, and which reflected his own extensive social circle. If conversation with Gibbs could sometimes seem like a Himalayan expedition in name dropping – be it mention of a famous pop-star, aristocrat, or an “amusing German prince” (the banker Rupert Lowenstein, whom Gibbs introduced to Mick Jagger, and who became the Rolling Stones’ business manager), it was because Gibbs did indeed seem to know everyone.

In 1967 he was among the house-party at the infamous bust at Keith Richards’s Sussex home, which resulted in the arrest of Mick Jagger and the art dealer Robert Fraser for possession of drugs. In the 1980s, he was largely responsible for rousing his friend John Paul Getty Jr from the torpor in which Getty lay in the London Clinic, being treated for drug addiction and depression, and persuading him to make a donation of £40 million to the National Gallery. In 2012 Gibbs advised and sourced much of the furnishing for the restoration of Spencer House by his friend Jacob, Lord Rothschild.

Christopher Gibbs was born on July 29 1938, the fifth son of Sir Geoffrey Cokayne Gibbs KCMG and his wife Helen. Following in his father’s footsteps, Gibbs was sent to be educated at Eton, but was expelled, as he would later recall, “for drinking, panty raids on other boys’ rooms, that sort of thing …” After attending the University of Poitiers, and a short spell in the Army, he became the hub of “the Chelsea Set” – a loose aggregate of young aristos, public schoolboys and the more racy species of debutantes, who frequented the Markham Arms in Chelsea, and whose principal enthusiasms were clothes, inebriation and a rather self-conscious slumming.

Gibbs was the dandy par excellence; as a 14-year-old at Eton he had sported velvet slippers, a monocle and a silver-topped cane with blue tassels and handed out visiting cards. He was said to be the first person on the King’s Road to wear flared trousers, in 1961, and the first to wear kaftans. “He was very flash,” Nik Cohn wrote in his book on British style in the Sixties, Today There Are No Gentlemen. “Sometimes he just wore tight jeans or fancy dress, like the others; but mostly his tastes were elaborate; suits with double-breasted waistcoats and cloth-covered buttons, and velvet ties, and striped Turkish shirts with stiff white collars, and cravats. Above all, he had a passion for carnations and was forever buying new strains, pink-and-yellow, or green-ink, or purple with red flecks.”

In 1958 Gibbs made his first visit to Tangier, returning with a stock of drapes, hangings and cushions, with which he stocked his first antiques shop in Chelsea, selling decorative objets and furniture. Fascinated, as he put it, “by the mixture of the grand and the raffish and the fast and the chic”, Gibbs became the aesthetic centre of a group that embodied the socially fluid and hedonistic mood of Sixties London.

The set included the Rolling Stones (it was said to be Gibbs who “initiated Mick Jagger into the arcane mysteries of high camp”), the heir to the Guinness fortune Tara Browne, the men’s fashion designer Michael Fish and the American avant-garde film director, occultist and Aleister Crowley enthusiast Kenneth Anger (“He’d hate me to say it,” Gibbs once remarked, “but Kenneth’s a cosy old thing.”). Robert Fraser would credit Gibbs as having invented “Swinging London”.

Gibbs’s Cheyne Walk home became a salon for the hip elite. It was used by director Michelangelo Antonioni as the set for the party scene in Blow-Up, and Anger also used Gibbs’s home to shoot some of the scenes of his infamous masterpiece Lucifer Rising.

In 1968 Gibbs was employed to design the interiors for Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg’s seminal Sixties film Performance, about a past-it rock star, Turner, played by Mick Jagger. Cammell had stipulated that the interiors should be decorated “predominantly in the Gibbsian Moroccan manner, furnished with strange and beautiful things,” suffused with a glamorous decay, “the dust in its crannies of a refined sensibility”. It was the style that Cammell had employed in designing Brian Jones’s flat in Earls Court.

Gibbs furnished Turner’s rooms with mats and hangings from Morocco, a bedspread from the Hindu Kush, a marbled bath with 17th century Japanese dishes, and tiles designed from a Persian carpet. “I wanted something mysterious and beautiful and unexpected, exotic and voluptuous and far away from pedestrian; some hint of earthly paradise. It also had to be done in four and half minutes on four and a half pennies.”

An enthusiastic consumer of marijuana and LSD, Gibbs nonetheless retained a tenacious work ethic. “I definitely suffer from the blown-mind syndrome,” he told the writer Paul Gorman, recalling the Sixties. “The only thing I’ll say in my favour is that I was practically the only person I knew who actually went to work at nine o’clock in the morning … because I had a job, my own business, and I realised that, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have any of those things.”

For years Gibbs occupied a set in Albany, the most exclusive address in London, where his friend the writer Bruce Chatwin once lived in the attic “with a Jacob chair from the Tuileries and the 18th-century bedsheets of the King of Tonga adorning the wall.”

In 1972 he bought a former Benedictine nunnery, Davington Priory in Faversham, where for three years his houseguest was the mercurial David Litvinoff, an intimate of Lucian Freud, the Kray Brothers and the Rolling Stones, who acted as “director of authenticity” on Performance.

Litvinoff became so intolerable that Gibbs was finally obliged to move out. Shortly afterwards, Litvinoff killed himself there with an overdose of sleeping pills. “He left me a note, which I found three months later, hidden in some shirts,” Gibbs recalled. “He loved blues music. It said ‘I’ve made eight tapes for you in such and such a box; please send another tape marked X to somebody in Australia’. No question of ‘I’m terribly sorry to have been such a nuisance’ or anything like that.”

Gibbs later sold the house to Bob Geldof, who planned Live Aid there.

In 1980, following his mother’s death, Gibbs took over his childhood home, the manor house at Clifton Hampden in Oxfordshire, which had been built for his family in the 1840s. He sold the house in 2000, moving to a small cottage on the estate. An auction of the house’s contents in 2000, which raised £3 million, included a dining table cut from a slice of wood, thought to be one of the first pieces of mahogany transported to England from the New World by Charles II’s navy in the 17th century, and an embroidered Elizabethan purse that belonged to the first Lord Yarmouth, treasurer to James II, containing a fragment of the monarch’s blue silk garter enclosed in a wisp of paper bearing the words, “King James’s Garter – I touch and God cures’’.

Gibbs was a connoisseur of English church architecture, the decorative arts, antiquarian books and the gardens of stately homes. His friend John Richardson, Picasso’s biographer, described him as being “in the tradition of English cognoscenti – like an 18th-century English parson who knew more about Etruscan vases than anybody in the British Museum.” He disdained bad manners, kitsch, the “floridity” of the super-rich, and television sets.

In 2006 he auctioned off the last of his stock at Christie’s and retreated to Tangiers, where he bought a home overlooking the city. This he furnished with characteristically eclectic taste with such items as a mid-17th-century painting attributed to Luca Giordano, shabby sofas, antique marbled tables and a collection of whips. While admitting that he sometimes got “homesick for snowdrops”, Gibbs admired Tangiers as a place, he once said, where you could feel “the ancient world still kicking along”, and where his aesthetic sense was tempered by “the basics … Here they can cheer things up with a bunch of flowers or a small piece of needlework.”

There he concentrated on cultivating his garden, and his duties as a church warden at the city’s Anglican church, St Andrew’s. A visitor to Gibbs’s home noted that “he was wearing wonderful kaftans, and he looked like Moses walking in the olive garden.”

He never married.

Christopher Gibbs, born July 29 1938, died July 28 2018

Return to TopVogue July 31 2018  - Hamish Bowles Remembers Christopher Gibbs, The Quintessential British Dandy and Tastemaker to Generations

Christopher Gibbs 1966
Christopher Gibbs, 1966

“Taste is difficult to define,” opined Min Hogg, the exigent founding editor of World of Interiors, “but his is absolute perfection.” She was talking of her great friend Christopher Gibbs, tastemaker extraordinaire, who has died on the cusp on his 80th birthday.

The fifth son of the Hon. Sir Geoffrey Cockayne Gibbs, KCMG and his wife Helen Margaret Leslie CBE, Christopher Gibbs was a well-born Renaissance man with an unmatched eye for aesthetics and a talent for friendship and the mot juste. His weighty words were dispensed with the effortless elegance that he applied to all aspects of his life, from faith to clothing, to collecting and to romance, as he reached for a turn of phrase that could be by turns Firbankian, Mitfordian, or Hogarthian. He was expelled from Eton for Rabelaisian antics—“illicit drinking, panty raids of other boys’ rooms—that sort of thing,” as he wryly recalled, and later attended the University of Poitiers, followed by a brief stint in the army.

But it was a trip to Morocco that was to prove an epiphany. There he discovered the “chimeric city” of Tangier. “I was a young fellow,” he told The New York Times, “and I came in the spring with an old-fashioned friend who had letters of introduction.” It was, as he discovered “a mystic hangover,” a place where “the ancient world [was] still kicking along.”

After that first Tangier foray, Gibbs returned to London laden with Moroccan textiles and rugs and beautifully hand-crafted objects with which he stocked his first antiques emporium on Sloane Avenue. He was 20.

At a time when penurious aristocrats were still demolishing unwieldy stately homes or at least divesting them of some of their contents, the well-connected Gibbs was uniquely placed to sleuth and gather the spoils and market them with seductive style to a generation of deep-pocketed fellow trendsetters, from a gaggle of Gettys and Lord Rothschild to Bryan Ferry and Mick Jagger (who hung out with him, as he once playfully confessed, “to learn how to be a gentleman”).

Gibbs’s avowed aim, as he modestly noted, was to “help people make nice cosy homes where they are going to live happy, beautiful lives.” In fact, he shaped the taste of a generation, appreciating the potency of provenance and patina, and handling scale like no one else. He venerated the splendid and the curious and the humble in equal measure—aesthetic beauty and craftsmanship and the love that had been expended on objects were what attracted him, and he set the bar for generations of insatiable collectors and aesthetes. A visit to his emporium was invariably a lesson in history. His erudition was astonishing, “in the tradition of English cognoscenti,” as his friend Sir John Richardson noted, “like an eighteenth century English parson who knew more about Etruscan vases than anyone at the British Museum.” Above all, he disdained the ‘floridity” of opulent taste; Tangier, he averred, had taught him the beauty of “simplicity.”

In a Gibbs scheme a console of writhing old golden volutes hauled back from a Grand Tour by some eighteenth century English aristocrat for his Palladian palace (and still bearing its original age-dulled and flaking flinish) would be juxtaposed with pots made by villagers in the Rif mountains where he built a bewitching adobe retreat. Damasks were faded, silk velvet was balding, a grand Victorian club chair (once doubtless home to some distinguished writer or politician’s sturdy bottom) would be so threadbare it was practically spilling its horsehair innards, garden flowers were arranged more or less as they fell. “I like things in their natural state,” he once explained, “people especially…objects and people that are unmonkeyed with, that are themselves, not trying to be something else.”

“Part Montesquieu, part Beau Brummel, and part Baudelaire,” Gibbs was at the throbbing heart of Swinging London, attracted, as he recalled to “the grand and the raffish and the fast and the chic,” although he always understood that hard work was the only thing that would sustain and support his passion for beautiful people and things. He knew and was in turn beloved by a who’s who of the great style-makers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

His Cheyne Walk flat was the setting for the marijuana party scene in Antonioni’s Blow Up, (“I thought you were supposed to be in Paris,” an irate David Hemmings— as a character based on David Bailey—says to the period’s uber model Veruschka. “I am in Paris” she replies, apparently stoned out of her mind). Kenneth Anger also shot some scenes for his 1971 cult classic Lucifer Rising there. Gibbs defined the look of Swinging London in the haute boheme setting that he designed for Nicolas Roeg’s 1970 Performance starring Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg, and James Fox—sets that exemplify his signature hippie de luxe mix of vastly scaled antiques, quirky objects, and Moroccan textiles. “I wanted something mysterious and beautiful and unexpected,” he explained, “exotic and voluptuous and far away from pedestrian: some hint of earthly paradise.” It could describe any of the magical environments that he created for himself.

If it was happening in the ’60s, Gibbs was there: he was at the party where the Stones were busted and Marianne Faithful was cavorting with a Mars Bar, and he took the band to Tangier where they hung out at the louche Café Hafa and discovered the unique cadences of indigenous Moroccan music. When he hosted a fashion show for Janet Lyle and Maggie Keswick’s fashion house of Annacat in his Regency flat in 1967 beauteous British aristocrats modeled the clothes in his tapestried drawing room before the gratin of with-it society: David Bailey brought Catherine Deneuve, Marianne Faithful simpered, and Private Eye’s editor John Wells read the order of show to the accompaniment of Dudley Moore at the piano.

Gibbs was the quintessential dandy. He is credited as the wearer of the first flared pants for men (in 1961), of flowering patterned shirts and Regency revival jackets and Moroccan caftans, and was the poster boy for his friends’ menswear fashion brands (including Michael Rainey’s Hung on You, Rupert Lycett Green’s Blades, and Nigel Waymouth, Sheila Cohen, and John Pearse’s Granny Takes a Trip). Gibbs confessed to being “monumentally narcissistic” at the time, and recalled that he might spend 40 minutes on the phone with friends discussing which particular tie (kipper-wide, from Mr. Fish), to wear that day. In the latter half of the ’60s Gibbs parlayed his sartorial know-how as the editor of the shopping guide in the quarterly Men in Vogue supplement of British Vogue. In later life his grand bespoke finery was as loved, well-worn, and battered as the objects he revered, and in Morocco his caftans and lemon leather babouche slippers gave him the appearance of a biblical seer.

Gibbs later exercized his interior taste in a set at Albany, the storied apartment building built around the 1774 mansion designed by Sir William Chambers for Lord Melbourne. A stone’s throw from London’s Piccadilly Circus, and “the enticements of Soho, the grandeur of St. James’s, [and] the comforts of Mayfair, to say nothing of the canny tailoring of Savile Row,” it was, as Gibbs noted, a place famed for its archaic house rules (“no pets, no children, no whistling, no noise, and absolutely no publicity”). It was the perfect London perch, and here Gibbs joined a roster of past and present incumbents that has included Lord Byron, Baroness Pauline de Rothschild, Isaiah Berlin, Terence Rattigan, Bruce Chatwin, Sybille Bedford, Terence Stamp, Aldous Huxley, Fleur Cowles, David Hicks, Garbo, and a fistful of prime ministers from Gladstone to Thatcher.

By 1972 his success as a dealer of beautiful treasures was such that he acquired rambling Davington Priory, a former Benedictine nunnery built in 1153 in the English county of Kent. In 2000, with great reluctance, he sold his family house in Clifton Hampden in Oxfordshire and its contents in an epic sale at Christie’s (“it’s quite a caper to keep a place like this going”), and retreated to his Tangier homes.

He acquired El Foolk, the house of the beauteous artist Marguerite McBey, a Philadelphian heiress who had created a farmhouse on Tangier’s Old Mountain that would not have been out of place in the Sussex Downs and commanded breathtaking views across the Straits of Gibraltar to the coast of southern Spain. Gibbs opened a double doorway from the living room into her former studio, but otherwise kept the atmosphere intact and amplified it with a layering of even more precious and idiosyncratic objects. With his godson, the architect Cosimo Sesti, he later built a ravishing Neoclassical villa in the neighboring gardens, and worked with fellow aesthete Umberto Pasti to create new gardens of imposing if always insouciant charm that soon grew to fecund splendor.

This new house, with its soaring volumes, was a showcase for Gibbs’s bravura if nonchalant taste. The drawing room’s walls were dappled in lime-wash the color of pulped tomatoes by a feisty Frenchwoman who came up from Marrakesh expressly for the purpose; underfoot lay a Tuareg straw and leather carpet. The room’s great height was emphasized by a vast and handsome painting, convincingly attributed to Luca Giordano, of “Hercules hoisting the giant Antaeus,” in its original frame of chunky scrolls of ebonized and gilded wood (the Caves of Hercules are to be found just outside the city of Tangier). It hung above an Indian Regency sofa with a faded pink linen cover hidden beneath an embarrassment of cushions worked with Fez embroidery. Gibbs’s study was essentially a conservatory that brought the sublime gardens inside. “If you have a garden and you experience it through the seasons,” he confided, “it holds you for life.” Gibbs’s partner in life was the sumptuously beautiful Peter Hinwood who lived in his own modest house in the gardens of the El Foolk property. Possessed of very distinguished taste himself, through the decades Hinwood has enjoyed careers as a model, (notably cast as a motorbiking Lothario for an iconic ’60s Olivetti commercial), an antique dealer of consummate refinement, and as an actor, memorably portraying the original Rocky in The Rocky Horror Show, clad in the briefest gold lamé shorts and muscle magazine abdomens.

Gibbs was a pillar of the quaint church of Saint Andrews, built at the turn of the century on the fringes of Tangier’s Grand Socco—“a cool oasis in the city,” as he noted, “with texts from the Koran woven into the reredos and the Lord’s prayer in Arabic round the chancel arch. Its very existence—built by the Scots, painted by Matisse— encourages a belief in miracles.” Gibbs’s faith was deep and sustaining and was made manifest in his profound kindness and generosity of spirit.

Gibbs was a pillar of the quaint church of Saint Andrews, built at the turn of the century on the fringes of Tangier’s Grand Socco—“a cool oasis in the city,” as he noted, “with texts from the Koran woven into the reredos and the Lord’s prayer in Arabic round the chancel arch. Its very existence—built by the Scots, painted by Matisse— encourages a belief in miracles.” Gibbs’s faith was deep and sustaining and was made manifest in his profound kindness and generosity of spirit.

Christopher Gibbs died like a king of yore, in his beloved house in his beloved Tangier, surrounded by friends, family, and devoted retainers, in a room filled with auction catalogues and commanding views across the orchard of datura and pomegranate trees that he had planted and seen grow to fruition, the roiling Straits of Gibraltar beyond, and the skies above the bright plumbago blue of his eyes, those all-seeing eyes that had defined taste for half a century and more.

Return to TopArchitecural Digest - Remembering Christopher Gibbs

The arbiter of bohemian style died this weekend

Christopher Gibbs 1966Christopher Gibbs, who died in Tangier, Morocco, on Saturday, his 80th birthday, bestrode the aesthetic world like a rock star, and not just because his clients and friends were literally rock stars—among them, a very young Mick Jagger, who once confided to a fellow guest at a dinner party hosted by Gibbs, “I’m here to learn how to be a gentleman.” That level of celebrity might come as a surprise, given that Gibbs was an antiques dealer, not typically known as a glamorous career choice, but he was something quite a bit more rarified than a purveyor of beloved old things. He was a broodingly handsome, wittily eloquent man whose quirky, funky, exotic, counterculture taste, and vast curiosity influenced a generation of individuals who fell passionately in love with what The New York Times once called his “distressed bohemian style.”
“I'm not interested in creating a dazzling impression of richness,” he told The Guardian. “We can make do with surprisingly little in life. It is best to have a few things which are really nice. I don't approve of the mean look, but I do approve of the spare look, where every little bit is telling.”

Some of the finest bohemians in the Age of Aquarius sprang from posh backgrounds, and Gibbs, as a grandson of a knight, son of a baronet, and a descendant of Blessed Margaret Pole, Countess of Shrewsbury, the martyred Plantagenet heir to the English throne, was a prime exemplar. An ancestor established the family fortune by founding a successful London trading company in the 18th century, and an uncle became governor-general of Southern Rhodesia. Known far and wide as Chrissie or Dibbley, Gibbs threw himself not into commerce or politics—he had been expelled from Eton, he revealed, because of “illicit drinking, panty raids of other boys’ rooms, that sort of thing”—but into dandyism, becoming a Beau Brummel of his generation while also operating a buzzy little antiques shop that he opened in 1958 at the tender age of 20. “Being a shopkeeper, I used to sell things sometimes,” said Gibbs, who stocked Moroccan garments and textiles and the like before expanding his stock into atmospheric antiques. “Then I used to parade around in them.” As he told Life magazine in 1961, he “encouraged friends to dig into their heirlooms, to wear old clothes, to turn their backs on ugliness and conformism.”

Gibbs Tangier Dining Room
A heroic 17th-century Italian painting, Fez needlework cushions, an Anglo-Indian sofa, and a splash of flowered chintz outfit the living room of El Foulk, Gibbs' Tangier residence, captured by Miguel Flores-Vianna in his book Haute Bohemians.

All that peacocking led to the so-called King of Chelsea being hired to be editor in chief of Men in Vogue, a job that allowed him to cover the sartorial, social, and swinging lives of his circle of finger-snapping, hashish-smoking, LSD-dropping, snake-hipped dandies, a heady brew of toffs, entertainers, socialites, bright young things, and kohl-eyed sirens of both sexes, from J. Paul Getty Jr. to Marianne Faithfull (which explains why, later in life, biographers and historians relied on his memories of that fertile, fantastic period he called “a time of experiment, dope-fueled and acid-elevated”). He was painted bare-chested by Patrick Procktor, photographed broodingly by Lord Snowdon and David Bailey, and loved devotedly by Peter Hinwood, the blond Adonis of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, who became Gibbs’s life and business partner as well as an enormously admired dealer and designer himself. “A man of great, great taste, almost better than the master,” says AD100 interior designer Veere Grenney, a part-time Tangerine and close friend, about Hinwood, who, along with several nieces and nephews, survives Gibbs. The dealer will be buried on Wednesday, August 1, at the cemetery of the Church of St. Andrew in Tangier, following a funeral that, appropriately enough, Grenney says will incorporate “Islamic elements plus be in the Anglican tradition.”

Gibbs also created sets for the 1970 cult Nicolas Roeg/Donald Cammell crime-drama Performance, which starred Jagger. “I got a lot of things from Tangier,” the dealer explained in an interview for Christie’s.“We had things made and sent over in a hurry – materials both old and new. There was a lot of sleuthing around the film hire places, sourcing what might help knit together and work in the whole picture. The most complicated thing was making the tiled wall in the bathroom, inspired by a 16th-century garden carpet in the V&A; it made the perfect backdrop to the bathtub frolics.… The bed for example was based on the story of the Princess and the Pea; many mattresses on top of one another, and a mighty stack in multi-coloured velvets was made and trundled north from Morocco.” His passion for the North African kingdom had begun with a trip there in 1958, and he remained enthralled by zellige, tadelakt, and Berber carpets for the rest of his life, even though, as he once admitted, souk chic had become a bit old hat.

His apartment at 100 Cheyne Walk, a seductively louche magnet for London’s hip set, appeared in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up and Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising. “The [drawing] room was dominated by an enormous painting by Il Pordenone that had previously belonged to the duc d’Orléans,” a biography of William S. Burroughs, a Gibbs intimate, recounts. “A huge Moroccan chandelier cast a thousand pinpoints of light over Eastern hangings and silk carpets. In the summer, afternoon tea was taken under the mulberry tree in a garden designed by Lutyens.” Cheyne Walk was also where Gibbs hosted a famous party for Allen Ginsberg, which Princess Margaret attended. So did Talitha Pol (Mrs. J. Paul Getty Jr.) in a see-through dress that revealed a total lack of undergarments. Unexpectedly powerful hashish brownies (the recipe came from The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book) were among the hors d’oeuvres, and Her Royal Highness ended up in hospital with what was blamed on “severe food poisoning.”

Gibbs moroccan dining room
Gibbs' Tangier dining room in a photograph by Miguel Flores-Vianna from Haute Bohemians.

Though AD once described Christopher Gibbs Ltd. somewhat blandly—“Eclectic and unusual items from the 17th century through the 1960s”—it was, Canadian interior designer Colette van den Thillart has recalled, “a Kunstkammer filled with the most astonishing wonders…a vibrant yet gloomy forest of beauty.” It was the sort of place one could find anything from a 19th-century American whip that once belonged to Lord Rosebery (“It was probably used for whipping slaves,” Gibbs blandly observed) to what Manhattan decorator David Easton called “large eccentric furniture,” such as a pair of 20th-century sofas copied from a grandiose design by 18th-century architect William Kent or bookcases so immense that they required a castle to suit them properly. One could find Jagger poking around as readily as one could glimpse Bill Blass, Pauline de Rothschild, or Lincoln Kirstein; one of the salesmen, appropriately enough, had been Bulent Rauf, the Turkish mystic. Simon Wells, in his book Butterfly on a Wheel: The Great Rolling Stones Drug Bust, twigged Gibbs’s taste perfectly, defining his haute-hippie chic as “well-worn grandeur with vibrant treasures from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, particularly Morocco. Aware that much of Middle Eastern art and decor resonated strongly with the psychedelic experience, Gibbs was a much sought-after expert when pop people turned their attention to decorating the interiors of their flats and houses.” Jagger relied on Gibbs to decorate multiple houses for him, having fallen completely under the dealer’s spell; Lord Rothschild and Paul Mellon were fans too.

“It was a memorable experience to leave the hustle and bustle of Bond Street, pass through that narrow darkened passage, to burst into the high, top-lit treasure house of salivation,” architectural historian John Harris recalled of Gibbs’s shop. “Here would be found the genial and constantly creative Peter Hinwood, one of whose roles was aesthetic arrangement and juxtaposition, what one might call the shaking of the kaleidoscope. I was always aware of how object answered object in many sensitive ways, and there was always what might be called creative rearrangements. I suppose the exhibit that evoked gasps from all and sundry was Lord Iveagh’s sock cabinet from his bedroom at Elveden Hall, Suffolk; its drawers still containing an array of smelly socks wrapped around Sir William Chambers’s designs for the cabinet, no less than the medal cabinet designed for Lord Charlemont at Charlemont House, Dublin.”

Photographs of Gibbs’s residences, from Davington Priory in Oxfordshire to El Foulk in Tangier, which was featured in Miguel Flores-Vianna’s book Haute Bohemians, were widely studied, ravishing more than one generation of admirers. Each home was a shrine, Christopher Mason wrote in The New York Times in 2000, to the dealer’s “elusive brand of anti-decoration, high-bohemian taste favored by self-confident Englishmen, a look based on well-worn grandeur, disarming charm, and unexpected contrasts. The magic is in the mix of masterpieces and oddities—like an assemblage of refined and wild-card house guests who mysteriously combine to create the ideal convivial country-house weekend. The allergy here is to the banal, not to dust.”

Gibbs reveled in a lifelong “delight in quirky objects whether humble or precious,” Hamish Bowles of Vogue posted on Instagram shortly after hearing about his garrulous, inquisitive friend’s demise from cancer. Nearly everything in the shop had a story attached to it, leading The New York Times to declare its owner a “provenance fetishist.” Gibbs happily concurred, saying, “I like intrinsically beautiful things, but if there's a yarn attached, that's a big plus.” Wear and tear was welcomed, even preferred: gilding worn to the quick, carpets closing in on the threadbare. “I like things in their natural state—people especially,” Gibbs told Mason. “Objects and people that are unmonkeyed with, that are themselves, not trying to be something else.”

The shop, to howls of protest, closed more than a decade ago, after Gibbs decided to move permanently to Tangier, as much because of his advancing age as for changes in popular taste, which he politely decried. Collectors today “want a good car, a good sound system, and a huge pink heart painted by Damien Hirst with dying butterflies on it which costs £400,000,” he said, plainly puzzled. “Yet for much less you could buy something completely fascinating made 300 years ago.”

Return to Top House & Garden - Unforgettable advice from the late, great antiques dealer & aesthete Christopher Gibbs, who died on Sunday

GibbsDescribed by the Telegraph as ‘the great civilising influence of the high 1960s counterculture,’ tributes have been pouring in for the late collector, antiques dealer, bibliophile and tastemaker Christopher Gibbs, who died yesterday in Tangier. Expelled from Eton for conning the local antiquarian bookseller into buying back its own stock, Gibbs set up his first antiques shop in Islington just as Sixties London was beginning to swing. Forming part of a group of socialites, fashion designers and flamboyant pop stars, who are now the stuff of cultural legend, his set, which included the Rolling Stones, re-invented the idea of dandyism, and made the English home cool again.

His work was beautifully defined by Christopher Manson in a 1990’s profile in the New York Times; ‘He is the leading proponent of that that elusive brand of anti-decoration, high-bohemian taste favoured by self-confident Englishmen, a look based on well-worn grandeur, disarming charm and unexpected contrasts.’ In tribute we’ve unearthed our favourite Christopher Gibbs quotes. Timeless advice which will stand for generations to come.

"We have got to the extraordinary moment when everything is held to have a value, 'I'm a great chucker-out. I go into people's homes and say: 'Chuck it out, chuck it out'. They say: 'But I won't have anything to sit on'. I say: 'Sit on the floor, then, until you find the right thing'.'

'As life goes by, that's what I admire. Objects and people that are unmonkeyed with, that are themselves, not trying to be something else.'

‘Following your nose. Finding out who the best merchant is. Sleuthing round sale rooms. Then only buy the things you're really turned on by.’

'I love to bring light into gloom. Even dark-panelled rooms can come leaping into life with the help of Chinese blue-and-white ceramics or a refreshing Meissen sculpture.'

'I try to find things for my clients which I have never seen before, which they have never seen before and which neither of us are likely to see again. I might see beauty in strange things, strange beings, strange places.'

Most old stuff is rubbish. And lots of it is hideous. But if you want to buy a nice table or desk, it's only a few hundred pounds - not more than a thousand.'

'They all want to be like everyone else. They want a good car, a good sound system and a huge pink heart painted by Damien Hirst with dying butterflies on it which costs £400,000. Yet for much less you could buy something completely fascinating made 300 years ago.'

Return to TopThe New York Times - Christopher Gibbs, Avatar of ‘Swinging London,’ Dies at 80

Gibbs at Albany

Christopher Gibbs, the antiques dealer, interior designer and fashion avatar, at his London home in an undated photo. He helped establish the “distressed bohemian” aesthetic.

Christopher Gibbs, an erudite London antiques dealer and dandy who introduced the raffish “distressed bohemian” style to interior design and helped start the Peacock Revolution in men’s wear, died early Sunday at his home in Tangier, Morocco. Only minutes earlier, at midnight, he had turned 80.

Cosimo Sesti, an architect and Mr. Gibbs’s godson, said in a telephone interview from Tangier that the cause was respiratory and cardiac failure.

Said to be a descendant of Margaret Pole, the executed 16th-century Plantagenet heiress to the English throne, Mr. Gibbs was an aristocratic lodestone for rock stars like Mick Jagger (“I’m here to learn how to be a gentleman,” Mr. Jagger was quoted as saying after visiting Mr. Gibbs at his home), John Paul Getty Jr. (whom Mr. Gibbs persuaded to donate $40 million to the National Gallery in London), the Beat Generation novelist William S. Burroughs; and Prince Rupert zu Loewenstein of Bavaria, a banker who became the Rolling Stones’ business manager. They were all clients of his or guests at his salons.

Mr. Gibbs had a reliable formula for surviving as a society stylemaker in the 1960s. As he confided to Paul Gorman in his book “The Look: Adventures in Pop & Rock Fashion” (2001), “you had to be monumentally narcissistic and have time on your hands, and just about enough money to do it.”

But Mr. Gibbs had more going for him than that. Unlike many of his decadent mates, Mr. Gibbs was wise, worldly and endowed with both a work ethic and a refined if finicky taste that was undiminished by his extensive experimentation with drugs or his predilection for exotica, like a stuffed, two-headed lamb and a collection of whips.

“He is also a leading proponent of that elusive brand of anti-decoration, high-bohemian taste favored by self-confident Englishmen, a look based on well-worn grandeur, disarming charm and unexpected contrasts,” Christopher Mason wrote in The New York Times in 2000.

“The magic,” he added, “is in the mix of masterpieces and oddities — like an assemblage of refined and wild-card house guests who mysteriously combine to create the ideal convivial country-house weekend. The allergy here is to the banal, not to dust.”

As Mr. Gibbs himself put it: “I like things in their natural state — people especially. As life goes by, that’s what I admire: objects and people that are unmonkeyed with, that are themselves, not trying to be something else.”

In 1960s Swinging London, the people who aspired to the hedonistic set were habitually trying to be like him.

As a clothes horse himself and also while editing the shopping guide of the quarterly Men in Vogue magazine from 1965 to 1970, Mr. Gibbs was credited with popularizing flared trousers, caftans and print shirts.

His eclectic taste in objects leaned toward elegant mahogany and marbled tables, shabby sofas, faded damasks and a sock cabinet that was designed by Sir William Chambers and that belonged to the first Earl of Iveagh (smelly socks included). Taste, he once suggested, could not be taught.

Christopher Gibbs with Jagger
Mr. Gibbs, right, with his friends Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull in Dublin in 1967. Taste, he said, is “something you catch, like measles or religion.”

“It’s something you catch,” he said, “like measles or religion.”

His objects of desire filled his Cheyne Walk home in London, which was borrowed by Michelangelo Antonioni for the party scene in his movie “Blow-up” (1966) and by Kenneth Anger to shoot the occult film “Lucifer Rising” (1972).

Mr. Gibbs also designed what he called the “earthly paradise” inhabited by the has-been rock star played by Mick Jagger in Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s film “Performance” (1970).

“Christopher was almost single-handedly responsible for making English antiques, and English heritage, look ‘cool’ again,” James Reginato, writer-at-large for Vanity Fair, said in an email.

Mr. Gibbs’s London manor, which once belonged to the painter James McNeill Whistler, was also the scene of a party for the poet Allen Ginsberg, where the hors d’oeuvres included a batch of industrial-strength hashish brownies. According a biography of Mr. Jagger by Christopher Andersen, the socially active Princess Margaret was among the guests who were hospitalized that night with what was diagnosed as food poisoning.

Christopher Henry Gibbs was born on July 29, 1938, in Hatfield, about 20 miles north of London, to Sir Geoffrey Cokayne Gibbs and Helen Margaret (Leslie) Gibbs.

Even as a 14-year-old Etonian, he affected velvet slippers, a monocle and a silver-topped cane with blue tassels. A year later, he was expelled, as he later explained unapologetically, for “illicit drinking, panty raids of other boys’ rooms — that sort of thing.”

After studying, according to various biographies, at the Sorbonne and the University of Poitiers in France and lasting three months in the British army (he had polio as a child and was soon found to be medically unfit), his mother in 1958 staked him to a goodly sum (about $225,000 in today’s dollars) when he was 20 to open an antiques dealership in Chelsea.

That same year he began making buying trips to Morocco to scope out brass lamps, carpets and other merchandise for his store and his clients.

Mr. Gibbs played hard, but worked hard, too.

“The only thing I’ll say in my favor,” he recalled, “is that I was practically the only person I knew who actually went to work at nine o’clock in the morning, whether I’d been up to eight o’clock or not, because I had a job, my own business, and I realized that, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have any of those things.”

In 1972 he bought Davington Privy, a 12th-century former convent in Kent. After his mother died in 1980, he also took over his childhood home, the 19th-century manor house at Clifton Hampden in Oxfordshire. He sold it in 2000 after his 90-year-old housekeeper, Louise Wagland, the only other occupant, died.

He moved full time to Tangier in 2006, where he lived with his partner, Peter Hinwood, who survives him. There he served as warden at the Anglican Church and tended his orchard of pomegranate trees and poisonous plants on a slope overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar.

He admitted to sometimes getting “homesick for snowdrops,” but to Milly de Cabrol, a New York interior designer who visited him in 2000, he had acquired the look of the very things he liked — of someone in his “natural state” — as he surveyed the breathtaking vista in his flowing caftan.

“He looked like Moses walking in the olive garden,” she said, “very peaceful, and looking forward to spending more time there.”

Return to TopEuroBishop - Christopher Gibbs RIP

Bishop David Hamid for the Church of England Diocese in Europe.

Christopher Gibbs Christopher Gibbs, one time Churchwarden of St Andrew's Tangier, and a key lay leader in the congregation for many years has died in the city he loved just one day before his 80th birthday. He called Tangier a “chimeric place”, presumably as it seems almost like a creature, pieced together from so many cultures, peoples, and influences. A perfect place for the antique collector Christopher to make his home. His funeral was today in St Andrmythicalew's and he was buried in the churchyard.

Known to many as a friend of rock stars and of many of the world's rich and famous, and even having been attributed with the invention of “swinging London”, Christopher's great love in latter years was the Church of St Andrew. He adored its quiet beauty inspired by Moorish tradition, and was proud that it was a gem which the great Matisse was moved to paint. Christopher loved the people of St Andrew's and had a particular generosity of heart towards the newest parishioners, the many from sub-Saharan Africa, who have made this Church their home and who find comfort and hope in this spiritual oasis. Christopher was deeply moved by the stories of those who have migrated here from lands to the south, and was impressed with the faith and dignity of St Andrew's African parishioners whom he described warmly as “chic, graceful and brave”. Despite a great distance in upbringing and culture, Christopher believed the truth that God calls us all to be one family, and thus he felt at home in St Andrew's with his African sisters and brothers.

Interior St Andrew Tangier

As a Churchwarden for so many years, Christopher was a supporter and friend to the priests who have served here over the years. It is Christopher’s vision that has helped St Andrew’s move to its present phase of its life, after so many years of locum chaplains, but now served by a permanent resident priest. It was with Christopher's bold encouragement to me as bishop that I sought a priest for St Andrew's, Fr Dennis Obidiegwu, who would be able to relate to the diversity of the parish.

Tangier now mourns one of her beloved residents. St Andrew’s mourns the passing of a dear brother, friend and mentor. We entrust our companion in faith Christopher into the hands of our Lord Jesus Christ. May the angels and saints meet him, and lead him through the gate to life and eternal fellowship with God.

Matisse Tangier