Ossie Clark was the flamboyant designer who exemplified the spirit of the sixties and seventies, as well as directing the shape of its clothes – he was know as ‘the king of the cut’. He introduced velvet suits to the Rolling Stones, who wore them onstage, and designed ravishing dresses in heavy, fluid moss crepe that draped and clung to make women look like stars. Many of those he dressed were indeed stars, and he partied as hard as any of them. He was known for being a talented, arrogant, glamorous, drug taking, beautiful bisexual man and he eventually died dramatically when he was murdered by his lover.
Born in Liverpool in 1942, Raymond Clark was later nicknamed Ossie after the Lancashire village Oswaldtwistle where his family where evacuated to during WWII. It was at the tender age of ten that Ossie started making clothes for his niece and nephew. He wasn't particularly academic but spent his school days learning building skills and drawing. His art teacher encouraged his interest in all things glamorous by lending him copies of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue and Diana Vreeland became one of his icons.
He went on to study fashion at Manchester's Regional College of Art from 1958, where he was the only male on the whole course. Clark really excelled at the technical aspects of fashion design with regards to cutting, tailoring and pattern construction and this was he basis of his distinctive style that is revered around the world to this day. In 1962, Ossie began a post-grad fashion design course with Professor Janey Ironside at the Royal College of Art in London. He graduated in 1965 and was the only student in his class to complete the course with a Distinction.
Ossie had met Celia Birtwell while studying in Manchester, and she later moved in with him while he was attending college in London. Their working relationship began when a buyer commissioned Celia to design prints to soften Ossie’s geometric designs. Her swirling, colourful drawings were ideal. The pair worked together frequently after that, and their work became almost synonymous with one another. They had two children, and were very happily married for several years, with the family providing stability to Ossie and tempering his wild ways. The couple divorced in the late seventies, after which Ossie struggled with his career and his addictions.
Ossie Clark’s designs were inspired by his love of dance and his wish that clothing not restrict movement. His degree show for the RCA was a great success, and featured in the fashion press and mainstream newspapers the very next day.
He was taken on straight from his degree show to be co-designer at a boutique called Quorum. The designs were popular and publicity was great, but Ossie and his business partner Alice Pollock were not successful business people. In 1967 the shop was deeply in debt and was sold to Radley, who continued to produce Clark’s designs under the label “Ossie Clark for Radley”. Under this label, the brand expanded further than ever before, and was exported worldwide. Large catwalk shows were produced, and his designs were both wildly successful, and widely copied. Towards the end of the 70’s, however, his clothes fell out of fashion, and his personal life became complicated. Despite several attempts at revival, his career was never sustained for long periods subsequently, and he never regained the heights of his heyday. He struggled with his downward spiraling lifestyle and battled with depression for the next two decades. Towards the final years of his life, he was living in a London council flat and had several convictions for offences such as drink driving and assault. In 1996, at just 54 years of age, Clark was stabbed to death in his flat by his former lover - Diego Cogolato. The 29 year old Italian man was convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility in 1997 and jailed for six years.
Ossie Clark's work has influenced many contemporary designers, including Anna Sui, Tom Ford, and Yves Saint Laurent and his designs from the 1960s and 1970s are highly collectable and sought after today. He really was one of the absolutely legendary kings of fashion history and some of his designs are amongst my favourite of all time.
Visit My Vintage at our vintage boutique based in Darwen, Lancashire for a wide range of original designer vintage clothing and designer vintage dresses including Ossie Clark vintage clothing. You can also shop online 24/7 at www.myvintage.uk for even more original vintage fashion.
Until next time.
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