Ossie Clark: A Brief History

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A designer who started at just 10 years old making clothes for his family, only to become known as king of kings road, let’s talk about Ossie Clark.

In the time between Mary Quant’s go-go mini skirts and Malcolm Maclaren and Vivienne Westwood’s punk movement, 1965-1974, there was Ossie Clark. With his desire to dress women in ways that they embraced their bodies, draping them in chiffons, and crepes, combining plunging necklines and transparent fabrics all while maintaining the sophisticated glamour of the 1930’s fashions he drew on for inspiration. Let's go back to where it all began;

Born in 1942 in Liverpool, England as Raymond Clark  he would later get the nickname Ossie after the Lancashire village, Oswaldtwistle, which is where his family was evacuated to during WWII. 

Geometry was Ossie’s best subject in school and had a propensity for understanding the mathematical element of Fashion. It would make sense then that among his artistic inspirations were the designs of Madeleine Vionnet and Charles James. He also noted that his study of architecture at the age of 13 proved invaluable to understanding proportion, height, and volume, which he would execute throughout his designs. Perhaps this could be part of the reason that Ossie Clark dresses always flatter the wearer so well! 

Another major influence to Clark’s design legacy would be in 1959 he saw the Pierre Cardin chiffon “peacock” dresses in Paris. When looking at them he describes the dresses being cut as what seemed to be a “spiral line”, this would be evident in much of his later work. 

The 60's and 70's were a time of "rebelling against your parents fashion" and one of Ossie's teachers during his higher education highlighted that a wonderful way to do this would be to take the glamour of the 1930's fashion and simply wear it on the streets. Ossie took this to heart, and his designs were meant to be worn, to party in, to run errands, all while maintaining this air of glamour. However, it is because of this that many of his designs are hard to find in perfect condition. But isn't that what our clothes are for? To be truly worn?

Ossie would end up marrying his major collaborator, textile designer Celia Birtwell, for a time. Many regard this as one of the best collaborations in fashion, and I would have to agree. Without Birtwell's designs Ossie's dresses would just be plain fabrics without the punch. Her Art Deco inspiration and botanicals, in the style of US naturalist Audubon, while sometimes incorporating kitschy equivalents in off-beat colors, gave Ossie dresses their impact. 

Not to say the sheer cuts and draping of the dresses weren't spectacular as well. After all Ossie was known to be so skilled that he would cut into material without a pattern. If you’re anything like me you grew up being told to measure twice and cut once, I can’t even imagine the confidence and skill that cutting without even measuring would require! A true talent. 

Each one of his dresses have a secret pocket just big enough to hold a key and a $5 bill. All that a liberated woman would need Clark thought. 

To have an Ossie was to Be Someone, he would produce two collections a year. One would be higher end to be sold at Quorum, Alice Pollock’s King’s Road boutique where Ossie got his start in the design world. And another, a lower priced one for a licensing deal with Radley. 

Talent alone couldn't keep Ossie on top though, he had what some referred to as a "volatile personality". This would affect his personal relationships and trials, his designs though steadily remained popular, and the label "Ossie Clark" coveted. Even as the man behind it all slipped into hard times. 

In 1996 Ossie was murdered in his own home, a truly tragic end for such an impactful designer on the fashion world. Before his death eh had begun to turn aspects of his life around and was mentoring designer Bella Freud in pattern cutting, and the Ossie influence is very evident in her designs today. 

Today labels you can find the Ossie Clark influence in are Marc Jacobs, Gucci, GHOST and Prada. 

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