First Exhibition Dedicated to Ossie Clark, Celia Birtwell to Be Staged in Italy

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MILAN — An exhibition dedicated to Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell — a first in Italy — will have double the exposure over the next few months.

“Mr & Mrs Clark, Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell, Fashion and Prints 1965-74” will be unveiled in Prato’s Museo del Tessuto on Sept. 17 and run until Jan. 8 and then move to Milan’s Fondazione Sozzani in 10 Corso Como from Jan. 16 to April 10, under the patronage of Italy’s Camera della Moda.

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“The discovery of Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell within [costume designer] Massimo Cantini Parrini’s collection has allowed to bring to light a chapter that is sometimes neglected, conveying this extraordinary creativity combining fashion, art and music,” said Carla Sozzani, president of Fondazione Sozzani. “Ossie and Celia is also the story of a special alchemy, one of the first creative couples in which a designer and a textile designer worked together to complete each other in total harmony.“

Sozzani said she’s “always been fascinated by the relationship of couples who work together.” While there are more examples in the art world, citing Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, for example, in fashion “it’s more rare for husband and wife to have the same creativity,” contended Sozzani. She admitted this was an issue close to home, after partnering and working closely with American painter Kris Ruhs for years. “I am fascinated by this kind of relationship, and I know the difficulties it entails when one shares the same projects.”

In the case of Clark and Birtwell — who were married from 1969 to 1974 — she wondered “where one begins and the other picks up and vice versa — without Birtwell’s prints, I don’t know if Ossie Clark’s dresses would have been so beautiful.”

 

An Ossie Clark dress from 1969. - Credit: courtesy of 10 Corso Como
An Ossie Clark dress from 1969. - Credit: courtesy of 10 Corso Como

courtesy of 10 Corso Como

Sozzani was regularly in London when Clark and Birtwell were popular, as she spent summer breaks from Bocconi University there to learn English, she recalled.

Cantini Parrini, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on Matteo Garrone’s “Pinocchio,” said he started collecting clothes as a child “as an anthropological curiosity, because they tell the story of society.” With a collection that includes precious Dior and Schiaparelli originals, he explained that he became a costume designer to understand the constructions of clothes. “We really want this exhibition to be seen, that’s why we planned to stage it in two cities,” he said.

The exhibit includes around 40 dresses displayed in chronological order from 1965 to 1974. It also aims to tell the story of Clark’s context and evolution, from the Quorum boutique in Chelsea to the Swinging London, through a series of videos, period photos by David Hockney for example, and editorials, memorabilia, sketches by Birtwell and reproductions of the designs, and an exclusive video interview with Birtwell.

Sketches by Celia Birtwell. - Credit: courtesy of 10 Corso Como
Sketches by Celia Birtwell. - Credit: courtesy of 10 Corso Como

courtesy of 10 Corso Como

Clark was called the “King of King’s Road” thanks to his ’30s and ’40s-inspired, fluid dresses with a slender cut that revealed the décolleté and played on transparency. Birtwell drew prints on light crêpes, silks and chiffons, and Clark transformed them into clothes that were favorites of Bianca Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Elizabeth Taylor, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix, and Marisa Berenson, to name a few. Clark died in 1996 at age 54.

Francesco Nicola Marini, president of the Museo del Tessuto di Prato Foundation, and curator Federico Poletti said the couple have often been neglected in the history of fashion — while forever changing it and inspiring many other designers — and noted how Clark was the first designer to extend the concept of performance to fashion shows, for example at the Royal Court Theatre in 1971, with the musical contribution of David Gilmour, one of the founders of Pink Floyd.

In September, Sozzani will start to be dedicated full-time to her art gallery in 10 Corso Como. In 2020, retailer Tiziana Fausti took over the brand and the company branch that manages the store and its restaurant, aiming for international and online expansion.

The retailer is now under the direction and business development of Fausti, named chair.

Sozzani said she is also engaged in trying to finally create a museum of fashion in Milan.

 

 

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