THE LOOK recommends you listen to: Exile On Main Street while reading this.
The fashion world is abuzz with the imminent rebirth of the Ossie Clark brand under the wing of WGSN mogul Marc Worth at London Fashion Week.
Backed by investors Amery Capital, it’s clear Worth is steering young designer (and, to some, shock appointee) Avsh Alom Gur in the direction of luxury, reflecting the languid, 20s and 30s-influenced aspects of the original designer’s work.
//Gur: Shock appointee//
This seems likely, given Gur’s previous experience at Donna Karan, Roberto Cavalli, Chloé and Nicole Farhi, and is underlined by his description of his work as “feminine, effortless, flamboyant.
These were certainly qualities to be found in the sublime designs of the master – just take a gander at examples from arguably the greatest Ossie archive, held by C20 Vintage Fashion).
What THE LOOK really wants to know about Ossie Clark 08 is: Will it rock?
//Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell, Notting Hill early 70s//
As Clark’s partner, muse and fabric designer Celia Birtwell (who is not involved in this latest relaunch) says in THE LOOK: “Ossie’s known as a feminine designer but everyone forgets he also came up with really hard-looking rock-y clothes. We had leather bike jackets, like the ones Brando wore in The Wild One, in a lot of different colours and materials. They were absolutely beautiful.”
//Ossie snakeskin hotpants (c) C20 Vintage//
And it’s true, Clark was as rock & roll as they come. His shows were the first to use models dancing and whooping it up to contemporary music (in this case spun by underground figures such as DJ Jeff Dexter and T.Rex’s manager Tony Howard).
“The shows were devastating and very rock business,” says fellow designer Antony Price.
“The models were stoned on the catwalk in these amazing outfits. He wore eccentric, fabulous clothes himself, at the centre of that whole scene in Ladbroke Grove with people like Miss Hockney floating around stoned in blue-silver Rivieras.”
Clark had long mixed in music and art circles – David Hockney was one of his Royal College Of Art contemporaries, as was designer Zandra Rhodes, and an early girlfriend was Jenny Dearden -“the ultimate ’60s rock chick with long blond hair and purple crushed-velvet trouser suit” according to Birtwell.
//Ossie snakeskin vest (c) C20 Vintage//
Both a fan and an intimate of the rock aristocracy, Clark had attended The Beatles’ 1964 gig at the Hollywood Bowl as a personal guest of Brian Epstein. In his life, there were musical connections every which way; Lindsey Corner, who worked at King’s Road shop Quorum (where Clark’s career took off), was the long-term girlfriend of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett.Barrett was later to be infatuated with another Quorum employee, “Silly” Gilly Staples, while, for a spell, Quorum’s van driver was the man who replaced Barrett in Pink Floyd, guitarist Dave Gilmour.
Designer Anna Sui has said of Clark: “He dressed the woman we all wanted to be: the rock star’s girlfriend.”
//Every inch the rock star//
Meanwhile, Birtwell’s favourite photograph of Clark dates from his heyday in July 1970 in which he looks every inch the pop star. “I love that photo,” says Birtwell. “It really sums Ossie up.”
//Sketch for tour jumpsuit (c) V&A//
For THE LOOK’s money, Ossie reached the heights of rock fashion with his incredible design for the adorned jumpsuits worn by Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones’ notorious debauched “STP” tour around the US in 1972 to promote their greatest album, the wasted and majestic Exile On Main Street.
Revealing, louche and overtly sexual, there were 10 jumpsuits in various shades and styles owned by Jagger, who wears a sequined stretch velour version (which unpopped down the front) for the Stones’ performance at Madison Square Garden that year, as caught by ace rock photographer Bob Gruen.
//Bob Gruen shot from Madison Square Garden, 72//
It’s sad to note that this period coincided with the pinnacle of Clark’s personal and business fortunes; unable to keep a tight rein on his financial affairs and plagued by relationship, drug and drink problems, Clark’s life soon spiralled out of control and his talents were only just being reappraised when he was murdered by his psychotic lover in 1996.
For the full story of Ossie Clark’s wild life and tragic demise, see Chapter 15 of THE LOOK.