Clark is compared to the 1960s fashion greats Mary Quant and Biba. He is also known to be a great inspiration for many fashion designers, including Yves Saint Laurent, Anna Sui and Tom Ford. Manolo Blahnik has said of Ossie Clark's work: "He created an incredible magic with the body and achieved what fashion should do — produce desire." Ossie Clark and Ossie Clark for Radley clothes are highly sought after, and are worn by well known models like Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell.
Born in Warrington, Lancashire, England in 1942, Raymond Clark's parents, Anne and Samuel Clark, moved to Oswaldtwistle during the war, hence his nickname, "Ossie". Ossie's mother, Anne Grace Clark, was in labour 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 practised 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. 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.
While attending college in Manchester, Clark was introduced to Celia Birtwell by a close friend and classmate named Mo McDermott. The pair started out as just good friends but that friendship soon developed into a love affair. Ossie also became good friends with artist David Hockney during this period. Clark and Hockney took an inspirational trip to New York together while still at college where they made many valuable connections in the fashion, art, and entertainment communities. The friends are widely rumored to have been lovers with a volatile relationship. Clark graduated from Regional College of Art in 1958.
Clark then attended the Royal College of Art in London and achieved a first-class degree in 1965. While attending college in London Celia Birtwell came to live with Ossie in his small Notting Hill flat. Ossie's degree fashion show at the RCA was a huge success. At this time Ossie's design style was heavily influenced by Pop Art and Hollywood glamour. The final line-up featured a dress with flashing lightbulbs down the front which was shown in every major newspaper and fashion publication the following day. The fashion press swamped Ossie with requests for photoshoots and special order garments. In August that year he had his first feature in British Vogue. A popular shop named 'Woodlands 21' in London's Sloane Street was the first to begin selling Ossie Clark's clothing line.
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 Kings 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 designing prints.
This partnership would last for almost all of Clark's career in fashion. Author Judith Watt comments: "Celia collaborated with Ossie. This was a joint effort. People say that she was his muse, which indeed she was, but their work absolutely went hand in hand. It was her designs that he used to create his. I think it's unfair that she not be given that voice"
Ossie was noted, from this period on, for buying six new record albums a week, all from the newest and most popular recording artists. His love of music and art were legendary amongst Ossie's friends. Also at this time Ossie began to take hard drugs more recreationally with friend and business partner Alice Pollock. "This is when his character began to change" says longtime friend Lady Henrietta Rous.
The first full Ossie Clark collection was bought by the Henri Bendel department store in New York. This was the first export of a talented young British designer's work. His simple, elegant dresses were widely copied by the designers on Seventh Avenue.
Ossie Clark is featured in David Hockney's 1970 painting Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy. It now hangs in the Tate Britain gallery on Millbank and is one of the most visited paintings in Britain. His diaries, which he began in 1971, were published posthumously by his close friend Lady Henrietta Rous in 1998 as The Ossie Clark Diaries. In 1999-2000 the Warrington Museum and Art Gallery held the first retrospective of his work. Another retrospective was held at London's V&A museum in 2003. A book from this show, Ossie Clark: 1965-74, is published by Adrams Books and the V&A Museum.
In November 2007, Marc Worth, the founder of WGSN purchased the name Quorum and announced the re-launch of "Ossie Clark". The re-launched label's first collection, Autumn / Winter 2008 / 9 collection was shown at the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington, during London Fashion Week in February 2008. Avsh Alom Gur, a graduate of The Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, was appointed as the Head of Design. In July 2009, it was announced that "due to market conditions" the label was to cease operations yet again.
Original Ossie Clark pieces are in demand in vintage stores in London.