Ossie Clark: The king of King’s Road The Sixties were in full swing. The Beatles thought they’d try their luck in America, Andy Warhol painted soup cans from his silver-foiled factory, and Stanley Kubrick made some film about an evolutionary space odyssey…As with the above, the legions of British fashion designers, from Zandra Rhodes to Bill Gibb, spilling out of art schools that decade could never have predicted the legacy they would leave behind. But none more so than Ossie Clark. Martha Hayes takes a look at a British fashion legend. Influenced by both pop art and Hollywood glamour, the then 23-year-old blessed with an inherent talent and an abundance of fresh ideas, triumphantly leapt from the steps of London’s Royal College Of Art and onto the pages of Vogue. The year was 1965 and ‘the king of Kings Road’ was born. What set Ossie apart from his contemporaries was a unique and unrivalled understanding of the female form. The bias cut became his signature after he experimented with 1930s originals from Portobello Market. On fabrics like crepe de chine, this cut was very flattering and flowing and often slashed to be quite revealing. It’s little wonder his dresses became status symbols. In 1966, Ossie and textile designer Celia Birtwell, (who he’d known for years and eventually married in 1969) collaborated for the first time on a collection for Alice Pollock’s Chelsea emporium, Quorum. This was followed by Ossie’s first diffusion line for clothing manufacturer Alfred Radley in 1968, when larger quantities of his clothes were made to sell at lower prices. The combination of Ossie’s simple but elegant silhouettes with Celia’s pretty designs, such as art-deco inspired flowers, perfectly united fashion and art and this winning formula embodied the bohemian romantic mood of the start of the 1970s. At the height of his fame between 1968-1974, Ossie was uber popular on the London fashion scene mixing in circles that included artist David Hockney (who he and Celia had known for many years and who immortalised the couple in the 1970 painting, ‘Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy’) and The Rolling Stones. Catwalk shows, such as when a Quorum collection hit the runway at the Chelsea Town Hall in 1970, were unashamedly Rock and Roll, featuring the likes of rock star wife Patti Boyd in chiffon dresses. These were now floatier, so as not restrict the models and to reflect music-mad Ossie’s own love of dancing. Vogue heralded this particular event, ‘more a spring dance than a show.’ Ossie went on to design Mick Jagger’s stage cat suits and even Marianne Faithful and Anita Pallenberg once shared an Ossie snakeskin suit. Let’s not forget the emergence of Ossie’s chiffon trouser suits during this time. Yet another example of how Celia’s prints brought Ossie’s talent for tailoring so distinctively to life. Often they were plain cream to incorporate a floral pattern, such as Celia’s famous floating daisy design. Ossie was also creating three-piece trouser suits and maxi coats but his designs weren’t restricted to crepe or chiffon, as illustrated by his fitted floral printed wool coat. Having suffered financial problems throughout his career, largely due to a hedonistic lifestyle and a generosity which meant he gave lots of his clothes away to friends (!) Ossie, now divorced from Celia, ran into trouble as the 1970s came to an end. With a punk movement led by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren coming into prominence, there wasn’t room for the romanticism Ossie had been known and loved for. Two collections for Radley in 1984 were sadly his last. Today, original Ossie Clark pieces are increasingly difficult to come by. Trademark bias cut crepe dresses, chiffon suits or fitted coats from any of his collections are thought after collection pieces. Celia continues to design, having taken her distinctive, intricate flower prints to the mother of high street clothes shopping – Top Shop, resulting in some successful and memorable collections. Through Celia we remember Ossie. But then, how could we forget him? Long live the king of Kings Road. Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.