An exhibition in Milan on Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell, the creatives of Swinging London

From January 15 to April 10, 2023, Milan's Fondazione Sozzani is hosting the exhibition 'Mr & Mrs Clark,' dedicated to Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell, the designers whose creative flair helped create the myth of Swinging London.

Under the patronage of the National Chamber of Italian Fashion, an exhibition dedicated to Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell, the two great Swinging Lodon designers, arrives in Milan at the Sozzani Foundation on Jan. 15. Mr. & Mrs. Clark chronicles the journey of the two creatives and explores the genius of Celia’s design, which developed prints inspired by nature and avant-garde art, and Ossie’s talent, whose mastery of cuts and pattern-making gave life to sensual and feminine clothes.

Their union, even in private life, was immortalized by David Hockney in the famous painting Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, (1970-71, preserved at the Tate Britain in London), which represents not only a portrait of two fashion designers, but also a manifesto of a new creative class between art and fashion. Carla Sozzani writes in this sense in the preface of the book published by Silvana Editoriale: “Ossie and Celia are also the story of a special alchemy, one of the first examples of creative couples who worked together to complement each other in total harmony. Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark are among the famous couples where one can never tell where one’s creativity ended and the other’s began.”

Mr. & Mrs. Clark. Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell. Fashion and Prints 1965-1974 is a project, shared between the Prato Textile Museum and the Sozzani Foundation. The exhibition and book, curated by Federico Poletti, enhance through various exhibition materials (including sketchbooks and vintage photos) an important nucleus of clothes designed by the London-based designer and from the collection of Massimo Cantini Parrini (celebrated and award-winning costume designer). Lauren Lepire (founder of the vintage store Timeless Vixen in Los Angeles), from the archives of Celia Birtwell and the Clark family.

Comments Federico Poletti, curator: “For the first time, both in the exhibition and in the catalog, the work of Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark is presented together, because Ossie’s shapes and cuts would not have had the same impact without Celia’s prints. Thanks to extensive research, we have recovered rare materials of great historical and artistic value, creating a unique exhibition that features 30 iconic dresses from their moment of greatest fame (1965-74), 7 precious notebooks by Ossie and Celia, numerous unpublished drawings, editorials taken by important international photographers, as well as rare memorabilia, to videos with Ossie Clark’s incredible fashion performances/shows.”

A tale for clothes and images that also takes shape thanks to the video in which Celia Birtwell herself speaks, “Ossie could have been an architect. He was great at creating three-dimensional shapes, which I could never do. I create flat designs and he could create shapes and volumes... Ossie was perhaps the first to put music in a fashion show, involving models of different ethnicities, interesting people from all over, dancing during the show. A multicultural phenomenon for the time that started a whole movement.”

Also available for the Milan exhibition is the volume published and distributed by Silvana Editoriale. Mr & Mrs Clark. Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell. Fashion and Prints chronicles the artistic and personal partnership of Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell through essays, interviews and a wealth of iconographic documentation. Edited by Federico Poletti, with art direction by Claudio dell’Olio, the volume traces the history of the British couple who originated an unmistakable style, leaving their mark on fashion in the period between Mary Quant ’s miniskirts and the subversive punk movement of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. The volume is not only a natural complement to the exhibition, but also an important bibliographical tool for understanding the importance of this couple sometimes overlooked by critics.

Renata Molho writes in the text The Silent Revolution of Ossie Clark: "Together with Birtwell, Clark experimented and invented: we remember the lime yellow and orange paper dresses, with reinterpretations of Poiret’s designs, or the feminine pantsuit, anticipating Yves Saint Laurent ’s Le Smoking of 1966. ’This same dress had been bought by Quorum in London in 1965 and brought to Paris by some of Yves’ collaborators,’ says fashion historian Judith Watt in an interview, ’I’m not saying Saint Laurent stole it,’ she points out, ’but he certainly took inspiration from it. Clark’s creativityÌ€, supported by the talent of Celia Birtwell, seems inexhaustible. Palms, cherries, flowers and stylized geometries, his is a personal language but one that defines an era, that still unsurpassed Swinging London."

Concludes Suzy Menkes among the first to attend Ossie and Celia’s performances, witnessing an era in great sociocultural ferment: "The young couple produced images for a rapidly changing societyÌ€ creating a new epicenter of design in West London. The very Portobello Road area was where the ’youth generation’ was beginning to sow seeds and grow... It was the ability of Ossie that pushed fashion forward, ’simply by looking at a design and turning it into a wonderful fabric,’ as Celia said, adding, ’with my imaginative sketches and pattern-cutting skills, we created a brilliant team that embodied the zeitgeist of young people who wanted to escape the restrictions of the postwar era.’"

For all information, you can visit the Sozzani Foundation’s official website.

Pictured: Jim Lee, Ossie Clark, Aeroplane (1969)

An exhibition in Milan on Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell, the creatives of Swinging London
An exhibition in Milan on Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell, the creatives of Swinging London

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