Very few people ever knew that a black American from Brooklyn via South Carolina was the fashion genius behind the original Hermes in the glamour years of Princess Grace and the '60s.
Jimmy Gibbez, whose movie star good looks managed to help bridge the race rage of the early '50s as did the beautiful African American stars before him, Josephine Baker, Miles Davis, and Harry Belefonte. Because of their talent and personal power, these artists all shined and Paris Show Biz opened its arms. I could even add that knowing Jimmy, Harry and Miles myself, they were so socially in demand that they managed to bridge all milieus, from the Rothschilds to the funky Pigalle Clubs. They were even allowed to come dressed they please to any social event ( as was Picasso). I would design clothes for Miles in my Paris shop on Rue Bonaparte but never for Jimmy. He could outdraw me! (not with a gun but with a pen).
Jimmy began his designing career in Paris right at the top chez Hermes. Leaving Brooklyn in 1960 at just 20, after visiting Italy, Spain, and Denmark Jimmy chose Paris as his new home.
In designing clothing, scarves and the stores decor, under the direction of Annie Baumel, Jimmy learned everything about leather, scarves and perfection, a hard to come by gift in fashion. He used this gift later when he had his own Jimmy Gibbez label.
The Faubourg St Honore Hermes windows were known to be beautiful but not spectacular until Jimmy began his design concept making them the magical go to fashion event in Paris, each Monday when the windows came out. His windows for the 150th anniversary in 1987, where his Royal Cat paintings for which he is ever known were the talk of the town and his corner window for the 150th is perhaps known as the greatest Hermes art concept window of all times. It has been said to me by painter Ed Baynard, that his cat paintings should hang in the Met next to Rousseau.
I met Jimmy soon after I arrived on Paris in 1964 when I opened my shop 21 Rue Bonaparte when a French newspaper did a story on the three American fashion designers in Paris, the third being Sara Shelbourn. Jimmy and his partner, painter Yvon Kergal, were frequent visitors to Sunday lunches at the Normandy mill house I shared with first husband, Ron Berkeley, make up man to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
Jimmy and Yvon entertained the art and fashion world in their art gallery home on the now Paris" in spot" the Rue de Temple, then a dark hole neighborhood where nobody dared to walk. I think Jimmy made the Rue de Temple the" in spot" as today I write about the joy of shopping the Rue de Temple and the quartier is so "classe" that Karl Lagerfeld just opened his own super chic store on Rue Veille de Temple.
Jimmy was also the designer behind Vicomtesse Jacqueline de Ribes brief moment as a fashion designer. The royal lady did not draw, bien sur, but Jimmy did.
During the '70s, Jimmy also did costumes for many plays dressing often dressing the great singer Nina Simone and designed for the Cotton Club.
In 1974 he bought a home in Le Vieux Cannet, in the mountains of Provence above St Tropez and created a paradise sur terre.
Sadly there was a fire in 1997 and many paintings and sketches were lost, but Jimmy rebuilt and Yvon Kergal, twenty years his junior survived Jimmy, who died in 2001.
Yvon paints portraits in paradise today.
Vicky Tiel began designing clothes 40 years ago in Paris and still owns a boutique there.
See Vicky and her NEW Collection on HSN and online. Her couture is available at
Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, and her perfumes are carried in Perfumania.
Her memoir, "It's All About the Dress: What I Learned in 40 Years About Men, Women,
Sex, and Fashion" was published by St. Martin's Press in August 2011.