Celia Birtwell’s Ossie Clark Dresses To Be Auctioned

The print designer is selling the archive of dresses made for her by her late ex-husband, designer Ossie Clark.


The print designer is selling the archive of dresses made for her by her late ex-husband, designer Ossie Clark.

Renowned textile designer, Celia Birtwell, is auctioning-off all the dresses that her late ex-husband, Ossie Clark, created for her.

The auction, forming part of a larger 'Passion for Fashion' sale of 400 lots, will take place on the 23rd June at Kerry Taylor Auctions, London.

Celia Birtwell’s prints exemplified the styles of the sixties and seventies. Her textiles are known for their whimsical feminine romance and artistic motifs, inspired by the paintings of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.

Birtwell first collaborated with Clark in 1965, for the Chelsea boutique ‘Quorum’. Clarke’s forte was in fabric cutting and he designed flowing dresses which were printed with Birtwell’s colourful patterns. Clarke’s chiffon designs imbued Birtwell’s prints with an ethereal elegance and were an immediate success.

In 1969, the pair were wed.

During their partnership, the duo designed dresses for celebrities including Marianne Faithful, Bianca Jagger, Paloma Picasso and pieces for the Rolling Stones and The Beatles.

Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last and five years and two sons later, the couple separated.

Clark was murdered by his ex-boyfriend, Diego Cogolato in 1996.

The sale will include bespoke pieces that were made for Birtwell, and range from an estimated £250 to £8,000. The most expensive is the black and red crepe 'Heavenly Twins' dress (c.1970) that Birtwell wore in the celebrated David Hockney painting Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970-1) which is on display at the Tate Britain.

Hockney was a close firned of the couple, and Birtwell makes appearances in several of his works wearing dresses that will be sold in the auction – including a gabardine jacket (c 1973-4) that appeared in Celia in a Black Dress with White Flowers.

In 2003, the Victoria and Albert Museum exhibited a retrospective of the pair’s work. Many garments displayed in the retrospective will be in the auction.

Auctioneer, Kerry Taylor, has said: ‘This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire pieces specially made by Ossie Clark for Celia. Some were never put into production, others are immortalised in famous sketches and paintings by David Hockney. They have a timeless beauty that makes them appealing not only to collectors but to young women who wish to buy them to wear.’

You might wonder why Birtwell would ever want to lose such treasured garments, but the designer has said that: ‘the whole point of this auction is to show how wonderful Ossie was, what a brilliant cutter he was, and so unique in every sense of the word.’

The 73-year-old textile designer hopes that part of her archive will be purchased by museums, where pieces can be immortalised through display.

She will divide the sale money between her six grandchildren.

‘I loved wearing his clothes, and I loved the comments I received over the years when I wore them,’ said Birtwell, ‘it’s quite emotional for me. I feel it is the right time to do something like this.’

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