Thursday, August 7, 2008

Cut and Sew

Raymond "Ossie" Clark (June 9, 1942 - August 6, 1996) was an English fashion designer whose career peaked from 1965 to 1974. Ossie was a pivotal figure in London at a time when fashion, music and photography were intertwined.

At 16 Clark enrolled in the Regional College of Art in Manchester. There he met two people, Celia Birtwell and David Hockney, who would help his meteoric rise to fame. His friendship with Birtwell soon developed into a love affair and an eventual design partner. The soon to be famous artist, Hockney introduced Clark to many valuable connections in the fashion, art and entertainment industries. Friends believed they were lovers involved in a volatile relationship.

Clark went on to attend the Royal College of Art in London and received a first-class degree in 1965. His final fashion show for the University was a huge success and peaked the interest of the fashion press. By August of that year he had his first feature in British Vogue. "Woodlands 21" on Sloane Street was the first shop to pick up the line.

In 1966 Clark forged a friendship with Alice Pollock owner of the exclusive boutique Quorum. She was so taken by his designs, she immediately ordered the entire collection. Their collaboration would take the Ossie Clark line to another level. On Pollock's request Celia Birtwell produced all the textiles for the next collection. This proved to be an infamous union with Clark designing the clothes and Birtwell designing the prints. This partnership would last for most of Clark's career. It was at this time Clark began his descent into hard drugs along with his business partner Alice Pollock.

By the late sixties Clark was dubbed "The King of King's Road" by the fashion press. Although Ossie and Alice were great at creating an image and pulling in a celebrity clientele, including Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull and the Beatles, they were less successful at managing a business. By 1967 Quorum was deeply in debt and Ossie and Alice agreed to sell Quorum to the UK fashion house, known as Radley.

In 1969 Clark married Celia Birtwell and had two sons, Albert and George. Eventually his drug use and erratic emotional state destroyed the marriage and the couple divorced a few years later. Without Celia to collaborate with and the loss of his children led Ossie into a downward spiral that put a huge strain on his creative output.

In 1996, Ossie was stabbed to death by his former lover, Diego Cogolato. Cogolato served six years in prison on a manslaughter conviction. He has been an inspiration to many fashion designers including Yves Saint Laurent, Tom Ford and Ana Sui. Ossie Clark's clothes are well sought after and can be seen worn by celebrities and fashion models.

Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell were featured in the David Hockney painting "Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy" which hangs in the Tate Britain Gallery.

Celia Birtwell continues to design today and is on her 4th collaboration with Topshop.

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