Dress sense

MORE THAN two years after Ossie Clark was murdered, the much-anticipated diaries of the fashion designer who set the Sixties and Seventies ablaze with his glamorous clothes have finally been published. They make compulsive - and depressing - reading. At the height of his career Clark had everything. He had celebrity friends and lovers, including Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, and David Hockney, who wore his clothes as well as sharing his swinging lifestyle. And he had talent and ideas - more than many of his contemporaries in Milan, Paris and New York who are household names today.

Women wanted to wear his clothes because they were flattering. Ossie had an instinctive knowledge of cut. Towards the end of his life, he used his rare talents to teach Bella Freud and to help Tanya Sarne at Ghost. This work helped to pay the rent on his council flat.

What's tragic about his life is not so much his terrible murder, but the fact that someone who had been a fashion legend was allowed to wither away, penniless, in the Eighties and Nineties. Had he been born French, the House of Ossie Clark would no doubt still be alive today, even if its designer were not. In Paris, design talent is nurtured and developed.

It is only in the past few years that British fashion has been taken seriously here, but there is still precious little in the way of backers or financial support for small fashion businesses. Look at how John Galliano had to struggle in the Eighties, with only the faith of his customers and Browns of South Molton Street to keep him going. In the end, he had to move to Paris, to a Moroccan backer, Faycal Amor, to keep his business afloat. Now he is secure in the hands of French businessman Bernard Arnault and the House of Dior. It is hard to imagine a British equivalent having such confidence in any designer.

One of Clark's contemporaries, Antony Price, is another unsung hero. In Paris, Price would give Thierry Mugler a run for his money. Instead, the designer who dressed Roxy Music and Jerry Hall in the Seventies continues his couture service, with a list of loyal clients - many of them French - who swear by his clothes. His is a unique talent that gets little of the support and backing it deserves.

The irony is, of course, that the royalties from The Ossie Clark Diaries might have saved the designer from bankruptcy in 1983. But no one would have been interested in publishing them, much less reading them, had he still been alive. In Britain, great talent has to die, it seems, before we will recognise it. And that really is tragic. !