Raymond Clark was born in 1942 into a working class family of 8 in Liverpool, in the North of England, and was nicknamed Ossie after Oswaldtwistle, the name of the town he was evacuated to during World War II. Ossie's mother, Anne Grace Clark, was in labor with Ossie for seven days during an air raid in World War II. Anne had been expecting a girl and so had no name picked out for her new baby. She let the midwife name him Raymond. Ossie was the youngest of six children ( Gladys, Kay, Beryl, Sammy and John ). Ossie and his brother John sang in the church choir at St Oswald's church in Winwick where Ossie won awards for his vocal talents.
Family and friends noted that from a very early age he was "brilliant at doing anything". Young Ossie would make clothes for his nieces and nephews. He practiced tailoring clothing on his dolls and designed swimsuits for the neighborhood girls when not yet ten years old. The Art teacher at Ossie's Secondary School recognised Ossie's creative flair and gave him a large collection of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar magazines. Clark pored over these magazines and took in all the glamour and cutting edge fashion.
At the age of thirteen Ossie studied architecture in school. He later said that the experience was"invaluable" The class taught him the fundamentals of proportion, height and volume. He would later go on to use all of these to great effect in his fashion designs.
Soon after leaving Beamont Secondary Technical School, Clark attended the Regional College Of Art in Manchester, now Manchester Metropolitan University at age sixteen in 1957. Ossie had to get up very early in the morning to make the long trip from home to college each day. Anne Clark would give Ossie prescribed pills to keep him awake and alert. This would be the start of a life-long addiction to both prescribed and illegal drugs.
From 1961 to 1964 he attended the Royal College of Art in London. Here he studied under the legendary Professor Janey Ironside (who numbered Zandra Rhodes, Bill Gibb and Antony Price among her protégés.)
For his sensational degree show, Clark sent out one model in a coat with lightbulbs around the collar. Other garments were made from an op-art patterned black-and-white twill fabric he found in the USA.
While studying in Manchester, he met and made a life-long friend of artist David Hockney. In 1970 Hockney painted the famous picture of Ossie, Celia and their white cat Percy. Ossie also met textile designer Celia Birtwell at college. Birtwell's charming prints would become the perfect match to Ossie Clark's sleek designs.
While at the RCA, he quickly began to make his mark in the fashion industry, with Alice Pollock's exclusive boutique Quorum featuring his designs in 1966. Ossie had met Pollock at a party on the King's Road and so taken with the young designer was she that she immediately ordered a whole collection of dresses for her boutique. Ossie presented a collection of white and cream chiffon garments that sold fast. Pollock wanted Clark's clothes to have a more organic feel and so commissioned Celia Birtwell to produce special textiles for the next collection. In this way, one of fashions most famous collaborations was born: with Ossie Clark designing clothes and Celia Birtwell desiging prints. Clark joined it full-time in 1966.
Ossie established himself as the star of London's fashion scene.
Ossie was noted from this period on to buy six new record albums a week of all the newest and most popular recording artists. His record collection was love of music and art were famous amongst Ossie's friends. Also at this time, Ossie began to take hard drugs more recreationally with friend and business partner Alice Pollok.
The first full Ossie Clark collection was bought by the Henri Bendel department store in New York. This was the first export of a talent young British designers work. His simple, elegant dresses were widely copied by the designers on Seventh Avenue.
The period from 1965 to 1974 is regarded as his zenith, during which time he had many famous clients.
While Ossie and Alice were great at creating an image and drawing in the rich and famous they were less successful at managing a business. Many garments were given away to celebrities or just disappeared from the shop. By 1967 Quorum, the partnership between Alice Pollock and Ossie, was deeply in debt and Ossie and Alice agreed to sell Quorum to a large UK fashion house, Radley (run by Alfred Radley). Radley took over Quorum's debts and put the management onto a sound basis. Alfred Radley was keen to maintain what made Ossie special and so he continued to support Ossie's aspirations by developing the Ossie Clark brand and funding large annual fashion shows, expanding Quorum's retail business and distributing Ossie's dresses to leading retailers around the world.
In 1967 Clark presented a fashion show at Chelsea Town Hall for Pathé News. He also showed his first full collection in London's Berkeley Square. Clark's was the first ready-to-wear collection ever to present a show during London fashion week. It was also the first British fashion show to feature black models. In 1968 Clark designed his first of many diffusion lines for Radley that made his clothes available to a high street clientele. Ossie enjoyed his relationship with Alfred Radley as he was strongly supported in his passion for designing and making special garments as well as being able to address a much larger popular market. The strong relationship between Ossie and Alfred Radley lasted until Ossie's death.
In 1969, he married Celia Birtwell. Although Ossie was openly bisexual and carried on many affairs with men, he and Birtwell had two sons Albert and George, together. Clark had long hoped for a large family of his own and his children were a great joy in his life.
In 1972 Manolo Blahnik launched his shoe-making career by making shoes for Clark's show.
Clark made large-collared leather motocycle jackets, cut very short and zipped on one side at the front, which became a widely copied garment. He also made hot pants, maxi coats, and gypsy dresses with handkerchief points. He used metallic leather and snakeskin as fabrics, but his skill is mainly associated with the use of crepe, satin, jersey and chiffon. These fabrics he ruched and droaped into dresses and blouses with plunging necklines, tiny waists and full sleeves.
Yves St. Laurent came to Ossie's shop in the Kings road, London, and shortly thereafter brought out his own collection of leather bomber jackets and culottes.
However Ossie Clark had zero business sense, and his firm folded in 1981 owing large amounts of money.
Clark freely adopted the hedonistic lifestyle of the 1960s and 1970s: his drug use greatly impacted on his emotional state and finances. Despite earning large amounts on royalties from the diffusion ranges manufactured by Radley his lifestyle and excesses meant that he failed to produce designs or any new work. Downfall soon followed, including personal bankruptcy in 1983. Clark and Birtwell divorced in the 1970s. This started a slow downward spiral for Ossie, who never recovered emotionally from the separation from Birtwell and his two children. With his family structure and work stability now gone, his creative output became strained.
Going into the 1980s, fashion — British fashion in particular — turned towards the new punk rock craze. Clothing from Vivienne Westwood's shop on the King's Road became the most popular look. Ossie Clark's romantic flowing gowns were no longer in fashion. His fortunes declined and Clark went bankrupt and largely stopped working. In this time period, Clark became a devout Buddhist. Although technically out of business, Ossie would design freelance and do one-off dresses for friends and loyal fans. He also trained the designer Bella Freud to pattern-cut in the early 1990s.
In 1984 Radley coaxed Ossie back to work for two seasons and he produced some beautiful garments but failed to discipline himself and again declined into the turmoil of drugs and despair; these were his last collections.
Alfred Radley kept in regular contact with Clark throughout these final difficult and unproductive years. Radley strongly believed that Ossie was the greatest designer of his time and tried on many occasions to encourage him back to the design room: they last met for dinner just two weeks before his untimely death - during that meal they agreed to try to launch a new Ossie Clark range - it was not to be.
He gave pattern-cutting lessons to the London designer Bella Freud, who said "he just sped on, he could cut straight into the fabric without a paper pattern, it was amazing." Clark worked with Freud's technical staff for a seaon.
In October 1996, at the age of 54, he was murdered by his lover Diego Cogolato. His talent was a great loss to the fashion world.
He designed both daywear and eveningwear, often using sensuous fabrics such as satin, chiffon, crepe, and clinging jersey. Although, since he was so versatile and prolific, it is hard to characterize his style, he was probably best known for clinging crepe and jersey dresses with plunging necklines, figure-hugging waists, and swirling skirts, but he was equally capable of producing close-fitting crisp linen suits. Innovations in terms of cut included suits with elbow-length tight-fitting sleeves over full long-sleeved blouses. In the late 1960s, he used exotic materials such as snakeskin, feathers, and metallic prints.
Mich Jagger, the Beatles, Marianne Faithfull, Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Sharon Tate, Britt Ekland, Marianne Faithfull, Anita Pallenberg , Twiggy, Marie Helvin, Cathy McGowan, and Goldie Hawn.