Ossie Clark

A genius cutter and constructor of clothes, Ossie Clark was the 1960’s wunderkind with all the essential ingredients: good looks, an extraordinary eye, an enormous ego and a talent to amuse. His bons mots littered the fashion pages of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The little black dress he christened ‘a history of nice times’.

Ossie’s ambiguous sexuality and instinctive feel for the female anatomy was at the core of his unique talent. He remains one of the few male fashion designers of the past century who instinctively understood how women’s bodies actually worked. ‘His clothes were never vulgar’, said his ex-wife, textile designer Celia Birtwell, who he dressed during her two pregnancies with their sons Albert and George, ‘I think he had respect for women. They were his goddesses.’ Ossie Clark was a product of a poor-working class family- the youngest of six children, who were evacuated to Oswaldtwistle during the Second World War. Encouraged by a schoolteacher who brought in glossy magazines, Ossie studied building, geometry and construction at Warrington Technical College, and in 1957 attended the Regional College of Art in Manchester. An outstanding talent, he secured a scholarship at London’s Royal College of Art and emerged in 1965 with a first-class honors degree and a full page in Vogue. His final college collection featured graphic fabric, acquired during a drive across America with David Hockney in the summer of 1964.

A collaboration with Alice Pollock of Quorum in Chelsea’s Radnor Walk catapulted this extraordinary designer onto center stage. Soon he was at the epicenter of the swinging sixties- friends included Patrick Procktor, David Hockney and Jimmy Hendrix. Cecil Beaton regularly attended his shows- along with London’s glitterati. In 1966 Ossie married Celia Birtwell, who he met while she was teaching at Salford School of Art. The magical meeting of Celia’s textiles and Ossie’s cutting created some of the most beautiful dresses of the decade- with plunging necklines, flowing sleeves and ethereal silhouettes. This was sensual perfection for the beautiful people. Ossie Clark’s collection was a fantasy of the finest silk, cut velvet and dotted chiffon. The French were amazed and amused by the crazy glamour of Gala Mitchell, Ossie’s London girl.

School Of Fashion

(Ossie Clark- left- in his atelier, June 1965, Photo Credit: Getty Images)

However, the 1970’s were not easy for Clark: there were a series of comebacks, divorce from Celia in 1973 and legal wranglings in the bankruptcy courts. By the 1990’s he had dropped out of the industry, became a Buddhist and made occasional one-offs for private clients. Despite his premature demise, and tragic death at the age of 54, Clark’s legacy of extraordinary dresses remains. ‘I don’t care how much anything costs as long as it is beautiful’, he told The Sunday Times in 1970. A heartfelt sentiment that characterizes many of the century’s most brilliantly talented designers.

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(Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell, 1971. Photo Credit: Vogue Italy)

Together with his wife, he captured perfectly the bohemian spirit of the sixties. His client list has always been impressive, including names such as John Lennon, Twiggy, Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, and more recently Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Nicole Scherzinger. His vintage pieces are still highly sought after by collectors and worn by fashion aficionados today (incidentally his label was relaunched under new ownership and design-ship in 2013). He has left behind a legacy; his undeniable talent is still celebrated and emulated today. He died in London in 1996.

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(Amanda Lear, 1968. Ossie Clark for Alice Pollock suit, Photo Credit: Getty Images)

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(Amanda Lear, 1968. Ossie Clark for Alice Pollock suit, Photo Credit: Getty Images)

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(Bill Chenail, 1968. Ossie Clark e Alice Pollock jacket and pants, Photo Credit: AP Images)

Cover Photo: Amanda Lear in Ossie Clark Ensemble, photographed by Peter Ruck, 1968, The Red List