Many names flew about during the “Swinging Sixties”, however one name proved predominant over all others, Raymond ‘Ossie’ Clark. Ossie was a young fashion designer that made his mark with his elegant and feminine gowns. He considered women to be goddesses and his ability to capture the beauty of a woman’s silhouette within the realm of fashion put him in great demand. Manolo Blahnik had once said “He created an incredible magic with the body and achieved what fashion should do – produce desire”
Raymond grew up in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, here earning himself the nickname ‘Ossie’. At age sixteen Clark moved to Manchester to attend the Regional College of Art. It was here that he first met Celia Birtwell, future collaborator, partner and mother of his children. In 1958 Clark graduated from College and eventually moved to London to study at the Royal College of Art.
He graduated in 1965 with a first class degree. Ossie’s final year fashion show was described as “a spectacular wonder of modernism, relevance, pop culture and Hollywood glamour”. His pieces gained substantial attention as he featured in every major newspaper and fashion publication the following day. Later that year Ossie featured in British Vogue, cementing his name in the eyes of fashion’s elite.
In 1966 Clark was designing for Alice Pollock’s London based wholesale and Boutique, Quorum. Ossie worked closely with Celia Birtwell, who was designing and creating patterns for Clark’s fabrics. Rapidly, Clark’s name had attached an exuberance of high fashion, status and power, dressing the likes of Mick and Bianca Jagger, Twiggy, Marie Helvin, Cathy McGowan, and Goldie Hawn. As well as high fashion, Clark made many stage costumes for high profile musicians such as, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Marianne Faithfull and Liza Minnelli. 1965-1974 were Clark’s golden years. Early on he was known for his great craftsmanship and ability to tame even the most unwilling of fabrics. Humbling materials such as Moss Crepe, Chiffon and Silks. He produced clinging crepe dresses with plunging necklines, figure hugging waists and A-line skirts all draped in Birtwell’s floral patterns. Ossie pronounced himself as the ‘Master Cutter’ saying “It’s all in my brain and fingers and there’s no-one in the world to touch me. I can do everything myself”
Despite the success of Alice Pollock and Ossie Clark’s partnership, Quorum became hugely in debt and had to sell to the fashion house Radley. Owner, Alfred Radley continued to support Ossie creatively and financially producing collectable gowns under “Ossie Clark for Radley”.
Like many great artists, Clark’s brief notoriety was followed by a hedonistic lifestyle of drugs and alcohol, which over time devastated his emotional state and finances, later resulting in bankruptcy and divorce of his wife and fashion collaborator, Celia Birtwell. The cycle of his drug abuse, depression and crippling grief over his failed marriage proved relentless, eventuating in the halt of his creative output into the fashion industry. The economic recession that hit in the eighties became the demise of Ossie Clark. Stifling his name and any status and power that came with it.
Despite previously being married to Birtwell, Clark was openly gay and had many male lovers. On the 6th August 1996 in his Notting Hill apartment Ossie Clark was killed due to multiple stab wounds inflicted by his former lover, Diego Cogolato.
Years after Clark’s death, and in light of Vivienne Westwood’s biography and Clarks diary edited and published by Lady Henrietta Rous in 1999, Elizabeth Young summarised: “Ossie Clark’s name evokes a familiar pantheon of imagery-prettiness and privilege, spun-sugar rebellion, Mick ‘n’ Bianca, Twiggy and Bailey, white butterflies, Moroccan lamps, dim rooms swagged and draped with ethnic tassels and fabrics, a fog of incense, rose-coloured spectacles and those early cocksure, thundering chords of the Beatles-Stones-Who soundtrack.” In 2003 a retrospective was held at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. In 2007, Marc Worth, Purchased the name Quorum and announced the relaunch of “Ossie Clark”. The re-launched label’s first line was shown at the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington during London Fashion Week showcasing its A/W 08/09 collection.
Ossie Clark has been many fashion designers inspiration. Influencing beloved designers such as Anna Sui, Marc Jacobs, Gucci, John Galliano, Christian Lacroix and Prada. Since the early nineties, and especially after Clark’s death, original Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell along with Ossie Clark for Radley pieces are treated as collectors items and are considered to be pieces of art.
Only Ossie can cut like Clark.