Raymond ‘Ossie’ Clark, fashion designer: born 1942 died 1996
We think Ossie Clark was a genius. End of. A British icon and an incomparable talent. Born in Oswaldwistle from where his nickname came from, Ossie attended Royal College of Art and in a very short time became one of the most significant fashion designers of the times designing for the rich and famous. His decadent, showstopping style with an amazing understanding of how fabric drapes the body gave his clothes a feminine, romantic and highly flattering look. He drove early uses of hot pants, jumpsuits (notably for Mick Jagger and Marc Bolan), motorcycle style jackets and maxi dresses – ideas we still see re-issued again and again today in fashion and so in demand within the vintage market.
His partnership both professional and personal to the textile designer Celia Birtwell created a synergy that many believe neither ever bettered – their mixture of great cut and beautiful fabric became a definition of the era’s ‘Swinging Sixties’ style and continued well into the 70’s. Sadly the fashion world can be fickle and by the 1980’s after splitting with Birtwell and a series of poor business decisions, Ossies brand had pretty much disappeared and various plans to re-start his collections failed over the decade. Although still designing for a handful of loyal individual clients, writing his diaries and painting he never got to launch his ranges in a more modern era as he was horrifically was stabbed to death in his own flat in 1996 by a former boyfriend.
According to the Independent, just a year or so before his death The Daily Mail ran a readers question section where a reader asked, “Whatever happened to Ossie Clark?” Ossie replied personally and wrote: “After the excitement of the Sixties and Seventies, travelling the world, having my picture in the Tate Gallery etc., things calmed down. By 1983 I was in financial difficulties and had divorced. Around this period I lost my love of the fashion world and restricted myself to designing three or four ball gowns or wedding dresses a year for friends. I also took up new interests – writing, drawing, music, walking and spending time with friends. My previous somewhat unreal lifestyle came to an end as I sought more genuine values. I had the same ups and downs most people have, but I enjoyed the next 10 years and felt privileged at being my own master. I feel this is the most important thing for a creative mind, even if it causes financial hardship. I’ve decided I’m ready to return to designing. I’ve had discussions about setting up my own studio, and I’m waiting for offers from potential patrons. Until then, I am enjoying producing exclusive one-offs for special customers.” source
In the years following his death the fashion world has embraced Ossie once again. An original Ossie Clark dress can cost between £500-£1500 as seen on sites such as FarFetch and for most of us would be a dream vintage find. Plus the brand has been re-vamped and re-launched via a new website – Ossie Clark London and a tie in with Debenhams designed by Nicholas Georgiou.
Whatever you think about modern re-launches of iconic vintage brands one things for sure; Ossie’s name will now never be forgotten and people forgetting him, after the futility of losing his amazing talent far too early, would be the greatest tragedy of all.