Thursday, August 28, 2008

The King of The King's Road


  • Judith Watt. Ossie Clark 1965–74. London: V&A Publications, 2003.
Produced in conjunction with a retrospective exhibition of Ossie Clark’s life and clothes at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which ran from 15 July 2003 to 2 May 2004. The book was designed by Vaughan Oliver at V23 (of 4AD Records renown).

Ossie Clark was an exotic bird. Unjustly forgotten in the roll call of Swinging Sixties fashion designers, he was one of the most significant figures moving the sixties forward into the seventies. Hugely popular with the society set and the rock’n’roll aristocracy in the years leading up to punk, he dressed people like Bianca Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Jerry Hall, and Gala Mitchell (who appears on the back of Lou Reed’s Transformer), and consorted with the likes of Bryan Ferry, David Hockney, and Anthony Price. Perhaps most notably he designed Mick Jagger's ridiculous white catsuit that he wore during the infamous 1972 US tour.

While Clark's full flowering came in the early 70s, he was a key figure in the mid-sixties as well. Even earlier, as seen here in 1961, as a student in the early part of the decade, at the Royal College of Art in Manchester, he was foreshadowing the decade that hadn't really started yet; his hair is pre-Beatles but her skirt is pure Mary Quant (years before Mary Quant):

Ossie 1

By the mid-sixties Ossie was a superstar, in Alice Pollock's King's Road shop Quorum, and in Vogue, as with this magnificent quilted coat (on Chrissie Shrimpton); as usual, Ossie was quite the visual sensation himself, almost as bold to look at as his clothes:

Ossie 2

But his real genius was not in Swinging London but later, in the Baroque sixties, and well into the Glam Rock seventies, when he started producing his classic flowing bias cuts using the prints made by his wife, Celia Birtwell. Her botanic prints were breathtaking and possibly an even greater achievement than the perfectly-cut garments themselves. Just look at this blouse, from 1969:

Ossie 3

Ossie Clark's story doesn't end well, like a lot of sixties stories; drug abuse, divorce, bankruptcy, exile, and a sad end in 1996, when he was murdered by his male lover. But for this amazing decade, he made some of the prettiest clothes anyone has ever seen. This book is a beautiful tribute.


Next up: a brief look at one of Ossie's friends and favorite models, Nicky Samuel.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008