Re: exhibition about Ossie Clark & Celia Birtwell – Prato Textile Museum /Fondazione Sozzani


Federico Poletti has curated a fashion exhibition about Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell at Prato Textile Museum.

Mr & Mrs Clark details the drawing skills of Celia, who developed prints inspired by nature and the artistic avant-garde, while Ossie, with his skill in cutting and modelling, gave life to sensual, feminine dresses. Their union was immortalised by David Hockney in the famous painting “Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy”, (made between 1970-71, preserved at Tate Britain in London), which not only represents a portrait of two designers, but also a manifesto of a new creative class between art and fashion.

The exhibition will move to the Sozzani Foundation in Milan in january. This collaboration between Museo del Tessuto di Prato and the Sozzani Foundation aims to recount – also through the exhibition layout designed by Arianna Sarti – the path of the two creatives who worked together, completing each other in total harmony.

Mr & Mrs Clark. Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell. Fashion and Prints 1965-1974 is a shared project by Museo del Tessuto di Prato and the Sozzani Foundation. Curated by Federico Poletti, the exhibition develops and enhances an important nucleus of clothes designed by the London designer and from the precious collection of Massimo Cantini Parrini, the famous, award-winning costume designer. Federico Poletti’s research has added never- before-seen materials to the initial nucleus of garments, loaned from Lauren Lepire’s private collection in Los Angeles and from the archives of Celia Birtwell and the Clark family.

Curator Federico Poletti comments: “The work of Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark is presented together for the first time here, as Ossie’s shapes and cuts would not have had the same impact without Celia’s prints. Thanks to those who have generously loaned rare materials of great historical and artistic value, we were able to create a unique exhibition also in terms of the different types of materials on display. The exhibition includes 40 iconic garments from their period of greatest notoriety (1965-74), 10 paper dresses, 7 precious sketchbooks of Ossie and Celia, numerous never-before-seen drawings, editorials shot by important international photographers, as well as rare memorabilia, up to videos of the incredible performances/fashion shows of Ossie Clark”.


The exhibition opens with a photo of Celia and Ossie embracing each other, a touching picture taken by their friend Norman Bain (1967) that perfectly summarises their professional and personal union. This first room features the large projection of a video interview with Celia Birtwell (born 2 January 1941 and still active as a textile designer) where she talks about first meeting Ossie at the Royal College of Art in Manchester, thanks to her friend and artist Mo McDermott, through whom Celia would also meet David Hockney. She then discusses the collaboration with Alice Pollock and the Quorum period, a boutique and meeting place for artists and musicians (from David Bailey to Rudolph Nureyev and David Gilmore of Pink Floyd) up to the incredible performances with the models and musicians Pattie Boyd and Amanda Lear. Celia Birtwell herself recounts in the video: “Ossie could have been an architect. He was great at making three-dimensional shapes, which I’ve never been able to accomplish. I do flat patterns and he could make shapes and volumes, which I think is a talent which I don’t have. This was a great marriage of two ideas. Ossie could encapsulate my fantasy drawings and make them real… Ossie was perhaps the first to put music in a fashion show, he got models of different ethnicities, interesting people from everywhere, who danced during the show. A multicultural phenomenon in its day and started a whole movement off “.

The first part of this same room is entirely dedicated to Ossie Clark, who already revealed an early talent in his first drawings for admission to the Royal College of Art in Manchester in 1962 (exhibited). The drawings with which he won the competition for the ‘Down Shoes’ footwear factory in 1964 are also on display, up to the famous sketches of the jumpsuit designed for Mick Jagger in 1973 in which Ossie used the same approach to design for men and women, crossing gender boundaries. His precious sketchbooks are also on display to help visitors understand his creative process, from the earliest dating back to the time of the Royal College of Art in Manchester (early 1960s) to those of the golden period (1968-69) where Ossie’s style became edgier and more abstract, playing with the shapes of high-waisted dresses, Botticellian dresses and bell bottoms with floral patterns, which would become the must-have of the time. This section also testifies to his interest for 1920s and 30s French couture during his studies, and for the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum where he focused on the French couture of the pre-war years, using the style of the fashion drawings of the Gazette du bon ton as a reference point. Clark thus developed a great interest for Madeleine Vionnet and Charles James, who reinforced the importance of the cut and the study of the silhouette in him. These two characteristics made him very recognisable, together with the prints developed by his companion Celia Birtwell. Clark himself would say: “You can make the most extraordinary models with a bias cut…” and moreover, “I’m a master cutter. I’m the scissor king”.

The second part of the exhibition recounts the artistic world of Celia Birtwell, who studied at Salford Art School in Manchester. She graduated in Textile Design and moved to London in the early 1960s, where she produced the first fabrics for op-art-style furnishings. She was also impressed by the exhibitions and collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, in particular by Leon Bakst and Sergei Djagilev’s costumes for the Russian Ballets and the art of the historical avant-garde. These designs, together with her love of nature passed down by her father, were fundamental inspirations for her path. Celia’s style – a combination of flowers and stylised leaves reminiscent of Botticelli – play on the unpredictability of combinations, sometimes with geometric elements and references ranging from medieval English tapestries to Cubism and Pointillism. The starting point for understanding her prints can be found in an exploration of the illustrations preserved in her precious notebooks displayed and digitised for the occasion: a repertoire that testifies to the breadth of her artistic references. As Celia herself recounts: “Drawing was natural and I found it almost therapeutic. I started from defining the face that had to have personality, otherwise I wouldn’t continue… It took me five minutes to create the Mystic Daisy print, which was one of the best-selling and had a long life”. Three notebooks by Celia are displayed, dated 1968 and 1970, with their covers bearing the equally imaginative names given to the prints, seen again on the four frame boxes displaying the period textile samples.

The large exhibition hall is dedicated to some extraordinary photographers who have distilled images of Ossie and Celia’s clothes of great evocative strength, such as David Bailey (among the first to portray the same Ossie with the model Chrissie Shrimpton, who wore his dress with an artistic print by Robert Indiana), Alfa Castaldi, Jim Lee (author of the leading image of the Plane crash exhibition of 1969), Sarah Moon, Norman Parkinson and Justin de Villeneuve. The items displayed in this hall also include a corner dedicated to the special relationship between Celia Birtwell and David Hockney. The artist began to portray her as early as 1969 with her romantic floral-print dresses. Celia and David nurtured a great friendship that brought them to travel all over the world, sometimes together with the photographer Peter Schlesinger. They visited Marrakech, San Francisco, France and especially Paris, united by a common love for art and exhibitions. Hockney said, “Celia’s face is not a mask, but it can reveal many faces”. The hall presents a reproduction of one of the famous paintings by Hockney in which Celia is wearing a floral

dress presented in the exhibition, together with a sample of the original fabric, printed in the Ivo Prints workshop in London. The workshop attracted the fashion elite of the time such as Biba, Celia Birtwell/Ossie Clark, Zandra Rhodes and others.

After the dual exploration of Ossie and Celia comes the heart of the exhibition with the spectacular display of 40 looks arranged on platforms in chronological order, from the first polka dot dress of 1965 to the creations of 1974, the date that marks their last collection. After that point, Ossie and Celia continued their work independently. Garments have been selected with patterns that became cult-lik, from the Lamborghini Suit of 1969 and the Eastern-inspired outfit (1968) worn by Amanda Lear, the “aeroplane” mini dress (from 1969 and photographed by Jim Lee) and the one with Monkey Puzzle print inspired by medieval rugs. Various fluid chiffon and moss crepe dresses follow with the Candy flowers and Mystic Daisy prints (1970), as well as the Tulips print (1972), also including the bias-cut models and the floral dress made with the discharge printing technique. There are also dresses with more abstract and geometric decorations, such as those inspired by the Russian avant-garde and Kandinsky (1974), passing through the models featuring colour blocks, such as the famous “traffic light” dress (1972) and other creations of the Ossie Clark/for Radley line, which only have prints in the top part. A truly comprehensive collection to convey the style, materials and technique developed by Ossie and Celia in this crucial decade. The hall is completed by a full display of a series of issues of Vogue testifying to the brand’s success, in addition to the large projection of videos of their fashion shows, such as the one at the Royal Court Theatre in 1971 with the musical contribution of David Gilmour, one of the founders of Pink Floyd.

The last part of this rich exhibition itinerary to explore is the wardrobe that includes 10 paper dresses. They are the perfect expression of that sense of cultural and social renewal that existed in the 1960s and became a mass phenomenon that spread throughout the United States of America and Europe. Between 1966 and 1969, the younger generations became voracious consumers of these two-dimensional, colourful and inexpensive clothes. Paper dresses soon became a merchandising tool capable of conveying the fashion style of the moment, but also political and cultural messages of the time. It was this great expressive potential that prompted many companies to collaborate with designers, including the same Ossie Clark, Paco Rabane, Pierre Cardin and Givency, and artists such as Andy Warhol and Herry Gordon for the design and production of these paper dresses. In 1966, Ossie Clark collaborated with Zika Ascher to make the first paper dresses using prints designed by Celia Birtwell and printed on a cellulose and cotton fabric. This small exhibition – a true unicum – was made possible thanks to Massimo Cantini Parrini, who first and foremost collected all these special creations which are impossible to find today.

The exhibition catalogue will be presented at the end of October and includes contributions from journalists and experts including Suzy Menkes, Antonio Mancinelli, Renata Molho, Cristina Giorgetti, Antonio Moscogiuri, Beatrice Manca, as well as unpublished interviews with Amanda Lear and Celia Birtwell.

OSSIE CLARK Star of Swinging London, Clark was born in Liverpool in 1942 as the youngest of six children. After graduating from the Royal College of Arts in London, he made his debut in 1964 when he began to design clothes for the Quorum boutique in Chelsea, popular with the English music and art scene. He met his wife Celia Birtwell at school. He was killed in 1996 at the age of 54, leaving two children. The Warrington Museum & Art Gallery held its first retrospective of him in 1999-2000, and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London did so in 2003.

CELIA BIRTWELL was born in 1941 in London and studied at Salford Art School in Manchester. She graduated in Textile Design at the Royal College of Art and moved to London in the early 1960s, where she produced the first fabrics for Op-art furnishings. She extensively studied the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum for her prints, in particular the costumes of Leon Bakst and Sergej Djagilev for the Russian ballets, with references ranging from medieval English tapestries to Cubism and Pointillism. She lives and works in London.


Mr & Mrs Clark
Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell. Fashion and Prints 1965-74
Museo del Tessuto di Prato Foundation and Sozzani Foundation of Milan
Museo del Tessuto
Opening Friday, 16 September 2022
from 17 September 2022 to 8 January 2023
Hours: 10 am – 3 pm (Tuesday to Thursday); 10 am – 7 pm (Friday, Saturday); 3 – 7 pm (Sunday); Closed Monday
Museo del Tessuto, via Puccetti 3 – 59100 Prato
Admission: € 10; reduced € 8 –

Sozzani Foundation

Opening Sunday, 15 January 2023
from 16 January to 10 April 2023
Fondazione Sozzani, Corso Como 10– 20154 Milan –

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Diane Pernet

A LEGENDARY FIGURE IN FASHION and a pioneer of blogging, Diane is a respected journalist, critic, curator and talent-hunter based in Paris. During her prolific career, she designed her own successful brand in New York, costume designer, photographer, and filmmaker.