Raymond “Ossie” Clark moved to London from Oswaldtwistle Lancashire (from whence came the nickname “Ossie”) in 1962 to enrol at the Fashion Design School at The Royal College of Art. He graduated in June 1965 with a first-class degree and a collection inspired by artist Bridget Riley.
Clark was an immediate success and he’d hardly graduated when Vogue magazine wrote about him as a major new talent and photographer David Bailey was hired to take his portrait.
Clark began to sell both his couture and ready-to-wear lines in the Chelsea boutique, Quorum with his friend and business partner Alice Pollock.
Part of the success of Clark’s clothes at the time was due to the extraordinary collaboration with his wife, textile designer Celia Birtwell. Many of Clark’s more famous garments were designed around her fabrics.
Clark had met Birtwell while they were both students in Manchester and although he was sexually attracted to men they became lovers, marrying in 1969 when she was pregnant with their first child. David Hockney, a friend of the couple and sometime lover of Ossie, was the best man.
The marriage only lasted a few years – towards the end of the marriage Birtwell could no longer put up with Clark’s wild-partying, drug-taking and his many affairs with both men and women. She eventually had enough and started an affair with artist Adrian George, leaving Ossie for good in 1974.
By the early seventies, Clark was at the height of his fame – his dresses were worn by the most beautiful and famous women of the era – Patti Boyd, Ali MacGraw, Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Elizabeth Tayor and Liza Minelli. He even designed some of Mick Jagger’s stage costumes – including the famous white jumpsuit he wore on the 1973 Exile On Main Street tour.
If he was visiting New York he would hang out with Andy Warhol, Diana Vreeland and Truman Capote. He probably thought that life couldn’t get much better.
By the late-seventies, his fortunes went into a downward spiral. Never a good businessman, Clark now found his clothes decidedly unfashionable. The Kings Road was now enthralled with the punk revolution and its accompanying homemade fashion.
By 1983 he was declared bankrupt after the Inland Revenue claimed 14 years of back tax. He lost his house and had to live with friends until, eventually, the DHSS re-housed him in a small council flat in Penzance Street, Holland Park.
In 1995 Clark invited 27-year-old Italian Diego Cogalato to move into his one-bedroomed council flat. Just eighteen months later – on 7 August 1996 – Cogolato called 999 and said to the operator “I think I’ve killed someone”.
When the police broke into the flat they found 54-year-old Ossie on the floor with 37 stab wounds to his body and with his head completely stoved in, apparently by a large terracotta pot.
At the trial, Cogolato’s defence revealed that at the time of the murder he had been high on a mixture of Prozac and amphetamines – a combination of drugs that caused him to see himself as the new Messiah. Unfortunately, they also caused Cogolato to see Ossie Clark as a devil that needed to be eradicated.
Cogolato was convicted of murder but given just a six-year sentence on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
By the time he died, Ossie Clark was an unkempt and sad figure often wandering around Holland Park near his flat. He had become a Buddhist and apparently prayed every day in front of a shrine made entirely of empty packets of Sobranie cigarettes. His carpet was just brown cutting paper and his goldfish were kept in vases.
He was so poor that he was occasionally seen scouring the streets for dog-ends to smoke and even fished pennies out of the fountain in Holland Park.
David Gilmore, later of Pink Floyd was a driver for Quorum for a while and later would provide a lot of music for Clark’s innovative fashion shows.
David Hockney’s famous painting Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (pictured above) was given to Ossie and Celia as a wedding present. Ossie, later in his life and needing the money, sold it to the Tate Gallery for just seven thousand pounds. It is now one of the most famous British painting and worth millions.