The Sixties survivor
Ossie Clark made the dresses, Celia Birtwell designed the fabrics When their marriage ended so did his career. Hers has thrived.
Saturday 10 August 1996
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.
Life & Style blogs
Windows 10: man updates PC, wakes up to find porn slideshow on repeat
Free porn websites could be shut down within months, says David Cameron
National Orgasm Day: Six reasons (plus one bogus one) why they're good for us
The 'world's most beautiful vagina' has been debunked by science
What do the emojis on Snapchat mean?
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
Is Britain really full up? Are migrants taking our jobs? Leading academic answers the most common anti-immigration claims
Calais Migrant Crisis: Deputy Mayor of Calais labels Cameron's use of 'swarm' as 'racist' and 'ignorant'
Labour leadership: New poll shows party is now even 'less electable' than under Ed Miliband
While we fixate on Calais, the Home Office is quietly deporting dozens of migrants on 'ghost flights'
Calais crisis: The seven claims made about the migrants - and the reality
- 1 Windows 10: man updates PC, wakes up to find porn slideshow on repeat
- 2 The 'world's most beautiful vagina' has been debunked by science
- 3 John Green schools morning show hosts after awkward interview with Cara Delevingne
- 4 Bulletproof armadillo puts Texas man in hospital after shot bounces off hard shell
- 5 Doctors declare war on Jeremy Hunt over weekend working 'myths' amid plan for seven day NHS
£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...
£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...