Ossie Clark

Born: Liverpool, England, 1942
Died: London, England, 1996

Ossie Clark was the youngest of six children. Born into a poor working class family, Clark and his siblings were evacuated to Oswaldtwistle, a village in Lancashire during the Second World War. Encouraged by his school teacher, Clark began to study architecture, geometry and construction at Warrington Technical College. He followed this by attending the Regional College of Art in Manchester in 1957. Here he met Celia Birtwell, which started a long term partnership.

With his talents growing, Clark secured a scholarship at London’s Royal College of Art. Graduating with a first-class degree in 1965, his final collection was incredibly successful. A dress featuring flashing light bulbs was shown in every major newspaper and fashion publication. The success landed him a feature in British Vogue.

Clark collaborated with Alice Pollock of Quorum boutique in 1966. Featuring a collection of dresses in the boutique, Pollock encouraged Clark to work with Birtwell, who was commissioned to produce special textiles for his collections. Birtwell and Clark’s collaboration marked the beginning of some of the decades’ most beautiful dresses.

At the epicentre of the swinging sixties, Clark’s work was bought by department store Henri Bendel in New York. Clark was the first young British designer to have his clothing exported.

By the late sixties Clark and his business partner Pollock were deeply in debt. Together they decided to sell Quorum, through which Clark’s products were retailed, to fashion house Radley. Keen to promote Ossie Clark as a brand, Radley funded annual fashion shows, expanded Quorum’s retail business and the distribution of Clark’s designs.

In 1968 Clark designed his first diffusion line for Radley named Ossie Clark for Radley. The following year he married Celia Birtwell and they had two sons together.

Adopting the hedonistic lifestyle of the 60s and 70s, Clark began a downward spiral. Divorcing from Birtwell in 1973, Clark faced legal difficulties and bankruptcy. In 1977 Clark had a brief revival.  He went into business with Tony Cadler and Peter Lee, but  the partnership lasted only two years. 1984 saw Clark return to Radley. However, he left again in the same year.

By the 1990s Clark had left the industry and turned to Buddism occasionally making garments private clients. In 1996, aged only 54, Clark was tragically killed by a former lover.

Ossie Clark’s design aesthetic can be seen from his comments to the Sunday Times in 1970, ‘I don’t care how much anything costs as long as it’s beautiful.’ With a legacy of extraordinary dresses, Clark was known for his plunging necklines, flowing silhouettes and prints. Using sensuous fabrics, Ossie Clark’s designs were perfection.

Ossie Clark Biography

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Written by Saxony Dudbridge

Saxony Dudbridge was one of the first contributors to the Catwalk Yourself project, Saxony studies International Fashion Marketing and she is responsible for our great History and Designers Biographies sections.

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