Monday, 22 March 2010

Ossie Clark in motion

Ossie's sketch of ruffled chiffon dress with tie neck, c. 1968-9, from Judith Watt, Ossie Clark 1965-74, page 79.

Ossie Clark's fashion shows have become the stuff of legend. According to Ossie's long-term friend from his student days, Norman Bain:
These were the first fashion shows that were like happenings, pop concerts and theatre. The feeling was that of a Parisian salon: everybody was there together, writers, artists, actors, dancers. (Quoted in Ossie Clark 1965-74 by Judith Watt).
Excitingly, British Pathé has three films of Ossie Clark and Alice Pollock's early fashion shows from 1968 and 1969. Alice Pollock was a fellow designer and owner of the Quorum boutique where Ossie became her business partner, and she should not be overlooked!

The earliest film has an issue date of 25 January 1968 so its quite possible it was shot in late 1967.

It starts with a fashion show at Maxim's in Paris 'by' Elizabeth Taylor, who, the narrator declares, was planning to open her own boutique there with Richard Burton. The narrator notes that this was "Mia Vicki's collection with several numbers dreamed up by Elizabeth Taylor." (I've found a couple of brief references online to 'Mia & Vicki' with no useful information).

The rather gauche sexiness of the designs is underlined by Richard Burton's approving comment "at last girls look like girls." This was fashion explicitly intended to appeal to men.

This show presents an interesting contrast with the Ossie Clark and Alice Pollock fashion show that follows it, as the commentary notes: "It seems that minis are in for a knock from maxis, from the bare truth to keeping the guys guessing." The glib narration has hit on a crucial point - Ossie Clark and Alice Pollock designed for women, not simply to make women more appealing to men.

Of course there's sexiness - sheer chiffons worn without underwear and the odd flash of a breast (sorry, maybe that's the next film, stay tuned!), - but these were garments that didn't beg for male attention and approval but kept the power and sexual autonomy with the wearer. I'm sure that only a small minority of their customers opted to wear those more revealing numbers as they were shown on the catwalk, but it was up to the customer how much they bared, which was hardly possible with the cutaway swimsuits in Liz Taylor's show.

See what you think:


Judith Watt notes that:
The show at the Revolution Club, just behind Berkeley Square in Mayfair, in 1968, saw Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones in the audience. Patti Boyd, who only did runway shows for Quorum, wore a cream chiffon dress with a print of blue birds and irritated her husband, George Harrison, in the audience with the rest of the Beatles, by going bra-less. Cynthia Lennon was there too. (Ossie Clark 1965-74, page 84).
Well Cynthia certainly wasn't at the next Revolution fashion show - the following film is dated 11 August 1968 - because John Lennon is shown with his "friend" Yoko Ono, both looking equally bored. This might possibly be because Ossie's shows tended to run at least an hour or two later than billed, and I'm sure they were captivated once it actually started - as I hope you will be too:


Ossie Clark's own notes on this fashion show, written as a 'stream of consciousness' exercise in recall in 1988, are as follows:
'Revolution Number 9.' Pattie Boyd models show at the Revolution and in the press.
'Come on, mother! We're late,' - John Lennon with Yoko looking like a porcelain doll. Kay, Carol tells, a light fell over the stage, like fell over, and he steadied the chair she stepped on, JL. (The Ossie Clark Diaries, page lxiv).
Sadly, John Lennon's moment of gallantry wasn't captured by the newsreel cameras.

This last film is dated 15 May 1969 and consists of unused footage of a fashion show at the Chelsea Town Hall. Well actually, after several viewings I've worked out that there must be footage from another fashion show at another venue spliced in - watch out for the disappearing catwalk and change of decor.

I'll have to warn you that this has no soundtrack and lasts for about four minutes, but I find it mesmerising nonetheless:


What is striking about all these fashion shows, among other things, is the charismatic personalities of the models. They all seem to be 'doing their own thing' as the now quaint 60s phrase has it. Some are live-wires, some are demure and some are theatrically vampish (indeed, some seem to be more than a bit stoned!)

You get a strong sense of a variety of distinct personalities rather than a sequence of clones stomping along like well-drilled soldiers in heels, as we're now accustomed to seeing these days.

And they were personalities, especially selected for their individual qualities and encouraged to express themselves as they saw fit - many became part of Ossie's intimate circle of friends and were valued for their character as much as their beauty.

I'll let Lady Henrietta Rous explain this more fully (she does it so well):
Ossie stated that he wanted 'to make a woman aware of her body', and in pursuit of this ideal he brought in a new style of model. They were no longer 'tall things that swayed at you as they walked down the cat walk,' but characters in their own right. Gala Mitchell, with her sculptural bone structure, big eyes and theatrical style, looked particularly good in leather jackets. Others who modelled were KariAnne Jagger (Mick's sister-in-law, whose captivating dances on the stage inspired the Hollies' song which begins "Hey Carrie-Anne, what's your name now, can anybody play?"); Amanda Lear (Salvador Dali's muse and as good a performer as KariAnne); and Lady Carina Fitzalan-Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, whom Alice had discovered walking down the street.
But perhaps what thrilled me most about seeing these films was the chance to see Ossie Clark's (and Alice Pollock's) clothes in motion.

As you can see most vividly from his sketch at the top of this post, he always thought in terms of how his clothes would work on the female body, and also in motion. Its a privilege to see them how they were intended to be seen.

A note on prices

The first film mentions a few ensembles and prices so I've used to establish what they might cost (nearly) today:

The white leather suit named 'Daz,' priced at 25 guineas, would be approximately £341 at 2008 prices.

Patti Boyd's outfit called 'African Queen' at 9½ guineas, would be approximately £130 at 2008 prices.


Lady Henrietta Rous (ed.) (1998) The Ossie Clark Diaries: In Doze Days. London: Bloomsbury.

Judith Watt (2003) Ossie Clark 1965-1974. London: V&A Publications.

I'd also recommend:

Peter Schlesinger (2003) A Chequered Past: The 60's and 70's. London: Thames & Hudson. This book has some wonderfully candid photographs of many of Ossie's friends and favourite models, and is a visual and gossip-rich treat!


Unknown said...

Great post, I love all these newsreels.

Spookily enough, I had an Ossie blog (nowhere near as good or detailed) lined up for tomorrow!

TinTrunk said...

Thanks Miss Peelpants! They are marvellous, precious films and I had to rein myself in from going on at even greater length (I'm a terrible waffler).

Looking forward to your Ossie post - could I link to it here? In fact, you've done loads of fab Ossie posts so I might have to link to a search on your blog!

fuzzylizzie said...

I wish we'd hear more about Alice Pollack, so it was very nice seeing her work in the folms along with that of Clark.

I actually have a blouse by Pollack, and was hoping to spot it on one of the models, but did not, unfortunately. I found it in a thrift store, here in North Carolina. An odd, but very lucky find!

TinTrunk said...

Hi fuzzylizzie - That was certainly a very lucky find! I'm very envious!

I think Alice Pollock was overshadowed by Ossie Clark's towering talent, and I agree we don't hear enough about her.

And I'm shocked to realise I didn't mention Celia Birtwell in the post. The synergy between those three talents created something so incredible.