Here’s yet another exciting exclusive from THE LOOK: images of what is claimed to be not only a snakeskin jacket designed by Ossie Clark – the world’s most collectible post-war fashion designer – but worn by him in a famous photograph taken in July 1970.
//Front view (c) THE LOOK 2009//
Interest in original designs by Clark – who died in near-penury at the hands of his psychotic lover in 1996 – has boomed over the last decade, stoked by exhibitions including a V&A retrospective and referencing by Kate Moss in her collections for Topshop (for whom his former partner Celia Birtwell also designs).
Last year witnessed Marc Worth’s relaunch of the Ossie Clark label, with which Birtwell is not associated. Although this has been greeted with a decidedly mixed reception, the appetite for original clothing remains unabated.
And now THE LOOK has been contacted by the owner of a zippered python skin “rocker” jacket who presents a convincing case that it is the very same garment as in the photograph below. This is Birtwell’s favourite photograph of her late partner.
//Ossie Clark 1970. Pic: Hulton Getty//
“I was living in London in the early to mid-70s and given the jacket by a friend who told me it once belonged to Mick Jagger,” says the owner. “Knowing my friend that was feasible. When I looked at the photograph I saw that it is the EXACT same jacket that Ossie is wearing.”
//Label (c) THE LOOK 2009//
The owner – who is contemplating selling it – says the jacket is in excellent condition: “The leather is soft and not cracked, and all the zips work. Only the lining is slightly worn.” It measures 28in from shoulder to hem at the front and 27.5in at the back. The length from shoulder to cuff is 22.5in.
//Back view; front detail (c) THE LOOK 2009//
Artist Peter Schlesinger wears a python jacket made by Clark to the same design on the cover of his photographic memoir of the late 60s and early 70s Checkered Past.
//Schlesinger on the Checkered Past cover in his Ossie python jacket, Los Angeles 1969//
The owner of the jacket in the photographs we are publishing today is adamant: “The one on Peter is the same design, but I’m convinced mine is the one worn by Ossie. I’ve studied it carefully.”
As recounted in Chapter 15 of THE LOOK, Clark introduced his fitted leather rocker jackets in 1966 in stark contrast to the effortlessly feminine attire for which he became best known. That year, Clark recalled in his diaries, he chanced upon rolls of python and watersnake in a “Dickensian”warehouse; the skins had lain untouched for 20 years.
Among the first articles he made from the material was a suit for Linda Keith , who modeled it for Clark in London on April 14, 1967 as part of his presentation of his A/W 67 collection alongside Chrissie Shrimpton, Suki Poitier, (whose ensemble included a snakeskin bodice) and Annie Abroux (wearing a black leather biker jacket with matching cap).
//Linda Keith, Chrissie Shrimpton, Suki Poitier and Annie Abroux, 1967. Pic: Hulton Getty//
Clark created his snakeskin clothes from diagonal strips, and the watersnake was dyed while those made out of python appeared in natural hues of grey/blue and brown. “The biker jackets were in a lot of different colours and materials,” says Celia Birtwell in THE LOOK . “They were absolutely beautiful.”
//Keith Richards in Ossie Clark snakeskin jacket with Charlie Watts, Sticky Fingers, 1971//
Clark’s music connections went every which way, particularly with the Rolling Stones and their circle including Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithfull.
Brian Jones intermittently lived above Quorum – the Chelsea boutique which launched Clark’s career – and introduced bandmate Keith Richards to the designer’s printed satins and skin-tight jewel-coloured trousers. Richards wears a Clark-designed black snakeskin rocker jacket in the photographic insert with the original vinyl release of Sticky Fingers.
Clark was such a firm friend of the ousted Stone that they spoke on the day that Jones drowned in his swimming pool, July 3, 1969.
Clark was also backstage at the free concert the Stones gave in Hyde Park a few days later, and he collaborated with Mick Jagger on performance clothes, including the diabolic black cape worn by the Stones’ frontman at Altamont in 1969 and the skin-tight studded jumpsuits for the notoriously drug-addled 1972 tour of the US.
Inquiries about the Ossie Clark python jacket featured here should be made in the first instance to THE LOOK.