The Sixties survivor

Ossie Clark made the dresses, Celia Birtwell designed the fabrics When their marriage ended so did his career. Hers has thrived.

Ossie Clark was always clear about the date his luck ran out. It was 1974, the year he split up from Celia Birtwell and lost not just a loving wife but his partner in one of the most glamorous and innovative design partnerships of a generation. Ossie's dresses and Celia's fabrics. It was Celia who pushed him in the right direction. "I never knew how lucky I was," Ossie would say wistfully of Celia. She in turn says, "I was so spoilt working with Ossie. I could do what I wished." Their two distinct talents - his for a sexy, body-moulding bias cut, hers for naive hand-drawn patterns and fresh colour - had been a winning combination. While the rest of the little-girl clothes of the Sixties and early Seventies are mere period pieces, looked at with amused nostalgia, Ossie's designs in Celia Birtwell's distinctive cross-hatched and stylised flower prints are remembered as works of art.

It is no coincidence that some of the best documentation of Ossie Clark's creative talent turns out to be immortalised as works of art. Mr and Mrs Clark and their cat Percy, David Hockney's 1972 portrait of the pair that has appeared alongside so many of this week's obituaries of Ossie, is a vivid evocation of a particular time and place, and a very particular talent. Hockney went on to create over 50 drawings, etchings and aquaprints of Celia - Celia Amused, Celia Musing, Celia and Flowers. One is inscribed "For my dear little shepherdess", another to "Dearest Celia. The birds can always sing." Each one captures the twirl of bias crepe, or an assymetric smock, cut by Ossie to complement one of Celia's stylised ribbon borders or fluttery flower prints. He made high waisted dresses with sashes that underlined Celia's rounded bosom. "He always designed for women with big bosoms and teeny waists," she said.

Like Ossie and David Hockney, Celia was part of a wave of talented northerners who came to London in the early Sixties. Born in Bury, brought up in Prestwich, she met Ossie in the Cona Coffee Bar in Manchester, where she was studying at Salford Art School. They were introduced by the painter Mo McDermott. Ossie, with his eye for fashion detail, remembered Celia's striped mini dresses of the time with their pie-crust frills, made by her mother. "Celia was quite the most enchanting creature," he said. When they met later in London, he remembered that Celia was dressed "in jeans and frilly Victorian blouses," sharing a flat with the painter Pauline Boty and working as a waitress in Hades. Then Ossie and Celia lived together for seven years before marrying in 1966. It was Hockney who persuaded them to marry. The odd relationship - seen from the outside as a bizarre menage a trois, with Hockney apparently close to both Ossie and Celia - lasted for seven years before their marriage and five afterwards. "We worked wonderfully in unison, his dresses, my fabrics," Celia says.

When their marriage broke up, Celia gave up her career to bring up the children - Albert, now 26, and a chef at the restaurant, 192, and George, now 24, who trained with interior designer David Mlinaric and now works with his mother in her second, flourishing career, designing furnishing fabrics.

Celia moved tentatively back to work as the boys grew up, designing furnishing fabrics, taking inspiration, as always, from the colours of Matisse and Raoul Dufy's textiles. She also absorbs to good effect the primitive and street art around her in London's Portobello Road. In 1983, she took the plunge and opened a fabric shop at the eastern end of Westbourne Park Road, in what was a former tile shop, and where her unconventional style - gold prints on black silk, white-on-white voiles, setting a trend for stars in furnishings for those jaded by chintz - has found a flourishing market among the haute Bohemianism of that fashionable quarter of west London, romantics like Celia who have never come to terms with the off- white minimalism of today's lifestyle.

Celia still works with the same printers that she used in the Seventies, happily spending every Monday and Thursday in an aircraft hanger at Hayes in Middlesex, supervising the birth of her designs. She insists she has no interest in creating dress materials. A recent Seventies revival she described as "depressing". "We have seen it all. We have developed since then and I am not happy with what I see in fashion today."

As Ossie drifted further into his own rackety lifestyle, sometimes bankrupt, other times attempting a return to the business where he still had a loyal following of friends and admirers, Celia stood apart helpless to devise solutions to Ossie's problems, quietly building her own career. "He should stop exciting himself," she would say, "go to the country, draw for a year. He should disappear where we don't have to suffer for him anymore." Sadly, she could never have foreseen the suffering that would follow the tragic events of this week.

David Hockney remains a close friend, still sketching his favourite muse and "drawing with the camera" (as Hockney calls his photographic collages) her house and her shop. His own Malibu beach house is full of her uninhibited electric colours in silk prints, with names like "Bon-bon" and "Bohemian chintz". "It's like a love affair expressed through work" she has said of Hockney's continuing passion for using her as a model. "I draw what I feel Celia looks like, not what she looks like," Hockney says. "Hers is a marvellous face, very elusive. And so I draw it over and over again. I love her."

Celia Birtwell's designs on linen and silk start at pounds 45.00 per metre. Contact Celia Birtwell, 71 Westbourne Park Road, London W2 5QH. Tel: 0171- 221 0877.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

    Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

    Early Years Educator

    £68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

    Nursery Nurse

    £69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

    Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam