London based Ossie Clark was a colorful King's Road personality, and a celebrated sixties fashion designer for both men and women. Clark's "...most productive years coincided with London's most optimistic, rule breaking period...from 1965 to 1974." He worked closely with his wife, textile designer Celia Birtwell, who created the exotic and vibrant textiles that his garments were known for. With their unusual styling and vibrant printed fabrics, Clark's work typified the flamboyance and frivolity of late sixties fashion.
In 1965, Ossie Clark began to design his high-end, glamorous fashions for Quorum, a boutique owned by Alice Pollock. Clark's designs, executed with Celia Birtwell's hand printed fabrics, were produced in limited edition numbers, and were very expensive and exclusive. By 1968, Clark had formed an additional partnership with Radley Fashions, a wholesale company with the resources to mass produce garments. Clark's designs were now available in greater numbers, and at significantly cheaper prices, but the quality of these pieces was inferior to his couture-like garments made for the Quorum boutique.
Like many young people in the sixties, Clark and Birtwell were enthusiastic about exoticism, Asian decorative arts, and the French Art Deco style. Their "...love of the earlier twentieth century Orientalism and the inspiration they took from it...was to set their work apart from their peers." Clark believed himself to be more of a bohemian than a businessman, and was often photographed wearing brightly colored velvets, and long flowing skarves (always printed with Birtwell's designs). The duo used colors and motifs that were inspired by exotic locales and time periods, but filtered through their sixties psychedelic sensibility.
Ossie Clark was a celebrity in his own right, and counted The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and their girlfriends, Marianne Faithfull, Anita Pallenberg, painter David Hockney, Cecil Beaton, Bianca Jagger, Jane Birkin and Brigitte Bardot among his close friends and clients. The Quorum boutique and studio was a hang out for Clark and his entourage, where models and musicians would drink champagne and smoke marijuana while Ossie worked on his designs. Brian Jones, a guitarist for The Rolling Stones, lived upstairs from the boutique and often bought blouses printed with Celia Birtwell's floral motifs. Clark wrote in his journal in 1967 how clients Jones and Keith Richards "...started wearing silks and satins printed by Celia and...skin tight jewel-colored trousers...I made (them) men's shirts with frills in chiffon and in crepe, with a one sided collar..."
Clark and Birtwell divorced in the mid-seveties, and Clark's addictions to drugs and alcohol proved to be more and more detrimental to his business. By the early eighties, Clark's flowing, hippie inspired frocks were no longer in fashion (as the severe punk aesthetic was growing in popularity), and he slowly faded from the scene. Ossie Clark was stabbed to death in 1996 by an ex lover in his London flat. Celia Birtwell continues to this day to design and produce her unique textiles.
The work of Clark and Birtwell from the sixties and seventies is now considered to be highly collectible and very valuable. Many designers have cited Clark as a major influence on their work- from Yves Saint Laurent to Anna Sui.