Ossie Clark born 9 June 1942 (d. 1996)
Raymond 'Ossie' Clark was an English fashion designer who was a major figure in the Swinging Sixties scene in London and the fashion industry in that era. As a result, Ossie Clark is now extremely well renowned for his vintage designs, the contemporary fashion era being characterised by past influences and a retro feel to design.
Clark is compared to the 1960s fashion greats Mary Quant and Biba. Ossie Clark was a key figure in the world of photographers, designers, rock stars and other celebrities who took London by storm in the 60s and 70s. The famous and the fashionable wore Ossie Clark’s designs including Marianne Faithfull, Jimi Hendrix and Patti Boyd. He created jumpsuits for Mick Jagger, silk dresses for Bianca Jagger and dressed Eartha Kitt in snakeskin.
Ossie Clark is featured in David Hockney's 1970 painting Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy [pictured below]. It now hangs in the Tate Britain gallery on Millbank and is one of the most visited paintings in Britain. His diaries, which he began in 1971, were published posthumously by his close friend Lady Henrietta Rous in 1998 as The Ossie Clark Diaries. A retrospective of his work was held at London's V&A museum in 2003.
Born in Warrington, Lancashire, Raymond Clark's parents, moved to Oswaldtwistle during the war, hence his nickname, 'Ossie'. Young Ossie would make clothes for his nieces and nephews. He practiced tailoring clothing on his dolls and designed swimsuits for the neighbourhood girls when not yet ten years old. The art teacher at Ossie's secondary school recognised Ossie's creative flair and gave him a large collection of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar magazines. Clark poured over these magazines and took in all the glamour and cutting-edge fashion.
Soon after leaving school, Clark attended the Regional College Of Art in Manchester at age sixteen. Ossie had to get up very early in the morning to make the long trip from home to college each day. His mother would give Ossie prescribed pills to keep him awake and alert. This would be the start of a life-long addiction to both prescribed and illegal drugs.
Clark graduated in 1958 and then attended the Royal College of Art in London and achieved a first-class degree in 1965. While attending college in London Celia Birtwell came to live with Ossie in his small Notting Hill flat. Ossie's degree fashion show at the RCA was a huge success. At this time Ossie's design style was heavily influenced by Pop Art and Hollywood glamour. The final line-up featured a dress with flashing lightbulbs down the front which was shown in every major newspaper and fashion publication the following day. In August that year he had his first feature in British Vogue.
He quickly began to make his mark in the fashion industry, with Alice Pollock's exclusive boutique Quorum featuring his designs in 1966. Ossie had met Pollock at a party on the King's Road and so taken with the young designer was she that she immediately ordered a whole collection of dresses for her boutique. Ossie presented a collection of white and cream chiffon garments that sold fast. Pollock wanted Clark's clothes to have a more organic feel and so commissioned Celia Birtwell to produce special textiles for the next collection. In this way, one of fashions most famous collaborations was born: with Osssie Clark designing clothes and Celia Birtwell desiging prints. This partnership would last for almost all of Clark's career in fashion.
The period from 1965 to 1974 is regarded as his zenith, during which time he had many famous clients.
In the late 1960s, Clark hit a rich vein for his flamboyant clothing range. The fashion press dubbed Ossie 'The King Of King's Road'. Clark launched his menswear line in 1968, which reflected the period's more relaxed attitude to male dressing. Clark's great idol was the famous dancer Nijinsky and his love of dance inspired his clothes to be free moving and not to restrict the female form. This style of dressing became quite popular in the 1970s thanks in large part to the popularity of Clark's clothing. Ossie Clark is well known for his use of muted colours and moss crepe fabric.
Celia would work up several prints of her own design and liking, with no imput from Ossie as to their colour or design. The prints were usually based upon Birtwell's interpretations of the natural world. Clark would then design clothing based around and inspired by these designs.
In 1969, he married Celia Birtwell. Ossie remained openly bisexual and carried on many affairs with men; he and Birtwell had two sons together. Clark had long hoped for a large family of his own and his children were a great joy in his life.
Clark was not just popular in London, but also in New York and Paris. He dressed the rich and famous who inhabited the beau monde of the late 1960s and early 1970s of London. Clark got in on the ground floor with many of the popular performers and actors of the period and was accepted in their circles when many other designers were not. This gave him many advantages to dress the rich and famous. Clark made many stage costumes for Mick Jagger, the Beatles, Marianne Faithfull and Liza Minnelli, among others.
Although society and celebrities accepted Clark as one of their own, Ossie always felt less appreciated artistically and financially than some of the people he was surrounded by. This feeling would lead to many personal frustrations. More and more Ossie would work less and party more and his work began to suffer. Clark freely adopted the hedonistic lifestyle of the 1960s and 1970s: his drug use greatly impacted on his emotional state and finances. Clark and Birtwell divorced in the 1970s. This started a slow downward spiral for Ossie, who never recovered emotionally from the separation from Birtwell and his two children. With his family structure and work stability now gone, his creative output became strained.
Going into the 1980s, fashion — British fashion in particular — turned towards the new punk style. Clothing from Vivienne Westwood's shop on the King's Road became the most popular look. Ossie Clark's romantic flowing gowns were no longer in fashion. His business declined and Clark went bankrupt and eventually was forced to close his business. Although technically out of business, Ossie would design freelance and do one-off dresses for friends and loyal fans. He taught at the RCA and launched a lingerie company in partnership with Gina Fratini, trading under the name Rustle. He also trained the designer Bella Freud to pattern-cut in the early 1990s
In 1996, Ossie was stabbed 57 times in his Holland Park apartment by his former lover, Diego Cogolato. Cogolato then broke Clark's skull with a teracotta pot, killing him. Cogolato was convicted of manslaughter and jailed for six years.
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