Goodbye Ossie and Amen

The star of the Sixties scene lives on in the memories and wardrobes of women for whom his designs were simply magic. By Tamsin Blanchard and Tony Glenville

Tamsin Blanchard,Tony Glenville
Monday 12 August 1996 23:02

Since Ossie Clark's death last week, his name has become as bandied about as much as it once was in the Sixties and Seventies. It was not only those who knew Ossie, but women who knew only the joy of wearing his clothes, now in their forties and fifties, who began to reminisce. Never, it seems, has a designer had so much impact on the wardrobes of a whole generation of women. And what is most amazing is the number of women who have kept hold of their old Ossie Clarks - no longer able to squeeze into them, but unable to throw them out along with the memories and pleasure they embody. These are some of the people who knew him, worked with him, or simply enjoyed wearing his clothes.

Celia Birtwell, textile designer and ex-wife

I was really privileged to work with someone so clever as Ossie. He was by far the best designer of his generation. He was a real star - he was the one at that period. Everyone was inspired by Ossie. He had an extraordinary talent for cutting and could transform a thin person or a plump person into whatever shape they wanted to be. He was a genius in a way and that's what you have to remember him for - his magic.

He gave a lot of joy to an enormous amount of people. In the 12 years I've had my shop I still get women coming in telling me about their Ossie Clark dresses. Let's celebrate him for what he gave.

Marianne Faithfull

Ossie was a very dear friend from the Sixties. His death is a great shock. I've hardly seen him over the years, but it was always a delight when we met. He was a genius and a great designer. I owned a snakeskin suit of his which I wore to all the court appearances. Anita [Pallenberg] loved it also. We often shared it. I'll miss him.

Karen Croome, Norfolk infants schoolteacher

In the early Seventies I was living in Berlin after finishing at art school. My lifestyle involved lots of balls, parties and dinners and my wardrobe consisted of lots of pairs of jeans and lots of long dresses. Three of them were by Ossie Clark, from Quorum on the King's Road. They hung and draped so beautifully and I felt wonderful in them. I met my husband in a black one and they mean an awful lot to me. I still have them and I wouldn't part with them.

Bella Freud, designer

I first met him when I left college about 10 years ago for some extra pattern-cutting lessons. He was rare in that he could cut into cloth without a pattern. He had complete confidence and treated fabric like a painter treats paint. His clothes flattered. He once said, "I can make a pair of shoes, I can make a bra." And he could. He was very fussy. One season when he was helping my pattern cutter, every last detail was thought out completely. He taught me the importance of paying attention to detail: even a tiny T-shirt had to be as well-finished as a ball gown.

Caroline Charles, designer

I can't remember anybody whose clothes we were so much in love with - those romantic 1930s-style dresses. The combination of Ossie and Celia Birtwell was a high point of British fashion. It is the same wonderment as Bill Gibb, Zandra Rhodes, Galliano or Vivienne. Some people should have a label saying National Treasure - he was a national treasure and also very commercial at Quorum and Radley.

Brian Harris, designer and lecturer

If you saw his drawings, you could see his clothes. The lightness of line translates brilliantly into clothes. He was a year ahead of me at the RCA. Later, I made hats for him, including a motorcycle helmet based on Marlon Brando in The Wild One. He went out with a bang: look at all the press. The clothes still look good today.

Marion Foale, designer

Ossie. A Sixties happening. Lovable, beautiful, enigmatic, so very talented, his spark created a fashion industry explosion. He was a true artist and a generous soul. Sadly, he didn't reap his just rewards.

Vanessa Denza, Head of Denza International

When I was a buyer for the 21 shop, I'd go to talk to the students at the RCA. In the corner was a lean, lanky chap with square sunglasses, and I remember I thought, God in hell's name, where did you get them? How, even in 1964, did he find them?

His first collection was witty and completely different and I always kept in touch with him.

He lived through his work, and his skill in realising his ideas. He said he owed much to the Hungarian tailor who taught him at Manchester. One day he was struggling with a pair of trousers he couldn't make and this man said "it's quite easy" and showed him how. Ossie always had this knowledge of the actual business of making clothes. He was like Jean Muir - he could sit down and make anything.

Manolo Blahnik, shoe designer

I owe most of what I am today to Ossie Clark. He helped me at the beginning of my career. When I started out, Mrs Vreeland in New York said to me "why don't you do shoes?" And Ossie saw my designs and used them in his show in 1972. That was the beginning of my career with shoes. He was the most influential designer of his generation. He was a great artist.

Sylvia Ayton, senior designer, Wallis

I was at the RCA a few years before Ossie. He and Celia Birtwell were an amazing team. His clothes were a great vehicle for her prints. The piece that stands out in my mind is his spiral cut maxi skirt, cut in panels - a superb piece of cutting. Everyone wanted it at the time.

Pat Lake, PR sales liaison for Franks Fashion Book Shop

I got married in 1964 in an Ossie Clark dress [pictured, far left] from one of his first collections. It was like a lace table cloth, lined in brown silk. I was working at a shop in Fulham that stocked his clothes and I just fell in love with it. He made it in a longer length for me and gave me some lace to wrap around my head. It was a really special dress. I still have it. In those days it was a gas. Anything went. My wedding was a crazy day. Today, it doesn't look outrageous because it's a simple shape, but then, it was totally off the wall to get married in a one-off designer dress. Ossie was a camp, wonderful character around the industry.

Brian Godbold, design director of Marks & Spencer

We were at the RCA at the same time and spent holidays together. The thing about him then was that as students, we all used to work weeks on end, torturing some piece of fabric for a project. Ossie would put something together the night before and it would look untouched by human hands. He was a real natural. The whispy chiffon dresses were magical at that point in time. Because of the Hockney connection, he felt he was an artist. Like Bill Gibb, the challenges of business just did not excite him. He was very much a part of that era. We were all aware at the time that he was extremely talented. With Ossie, it was very much about a feeling for fabric. His craftsmanship was superb, and his cut was very creative.

Georgina Howell, fashion writer and author of Sultans of Style, (Ebury 1990)

Bankrupt, busted and precariously housed as he was, Ossie Clark was still the one and only - his runaway brilliance as a dressmaker and cutter locked away in his poetic brain and clever hands.

The last time I saw Ossie, at Christmas last year, I introduced him to my mother, and he was at his enchanting best. We had tea at Richoux. He pulled a lace corset out of an inside pocket of his fine Harris tweed coat: he was reboning it for a friend in return for a restaurant dinner. When we parted he counted his blessings aloud: his two sons, his returning health - and his boyfriend, Diego Cogolato.

Tanya Sarne, Ghost

Ossie was unique. He was the quintessential English Eccentric and a genius.

Ruth Gill, owner of Ruth Gill Interiors

I was about 18 when my sister worked in Quorum. I always used to nick some pieces and run down to the local seamstress to have them copied as I lived in Dublin and couldn't get the stuff except from my sister. My sister got married in an Ossie Clark dress. It was amazing - I've still got it somewhere at home. It was cream crepe, had a tight bodice and when you sat down, it had loads of accordion pleats that fanned out everywhere. Eventually, I did get a couple of Ossie pieces of my own. I wish I'd kept them.

Drusilla Beyfus, journalist

He was one of the few designers who managed to merge romanticism and modernity, yet his clothes were always gentle and becoming. I had a maxi coat in butter-coloured velvet, which made me feel like Anna Karenina. His craftsmanship was tremendous and his cutting was ingenious. He was one of the outstanding designers of the Sixties.

Kathryn Samuel, fashion journalist and consultant

In retrospect it has become clear that Ossie Clark's cut and style epitomised the mood of London's late Sixties, more than any other designer. It takes a few decades to focus quite so specifically; to realise that some of the names we thought important then caught only aspects of the time, not the heart.

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