The design manager of the relaunched Ossie Clark concession brand tells Emily Norval why he feels like a kid in a sweet shop.
Debenhams is relaunching iconic 1960s brand Ossie Clark. How did this come about?
Debenhams was working with Alison Mansell [who runs supplier Amanda Marshall] to set up a concession brand and jumped on the heritage idea. Alison had noted what I was doing with Sub-Couture, which I set up in 2008, and thought it seemed a good fit, as I’ve also got a background of working with couture designers. Ossie Clark London is an indie concession business: everything is designed by myself and made in-house.
How familiar were you with the Ossie Clark label before?
Very. When I was at Saint Martins College one of my collections was inspired by the Ossie Clark silhouette and I’d done a lot of research into his designs at that point. It was all about women and the feminine shape and I really took that with me when I set up my own business in the 1980s.
Were you nervous considering that the previous relaunch of Ossie Clark (in 2008, headed by trends analysis firm WGSN’s founder Mark Worth) didn’t get a positive reaction from the press?
Well we tried to look very carefully at the failings before, although we’re doing something very different in terms of price point. What people should know about Ossie Clark is that not only did he design for the elite, he was a real pioneer in bringing the high end to the mass market. This is what we’re continuing with the relaunch and I think that will make it very successful.
It must feel amazing to be working with his original sketches.
I feel like a child in a sweet shop. I’ve had access to designs that were never made, the real DNA of the Ossie Clark brand. But when you think of 40 years ago and the fabrics then, heavy rayons and largely dry clean only, whereas now we have this new technology and modern fabrics, we can marry the new with the old and update rather than relaunch the brand. We can also take into account the way the consumer has physically changed since the 1970s – for example we’ve taken a classic piece like a moss crêpe dress and given it more of a waist and added elastane for comfort. It does what the old one did but more. There’s a lot of history steeped in those garments.
What has been your career highlight so far?
Without a shadow of a doubt designing for the Ossie Clark range. It’s just a dream come true. I think beyond that, being nominated for designer of the year in 1989 and standing next to John Galliano and other key designers that were around then.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
The best was from Jimmy Choo, who is a great friend of mine and used to design all of the shoes for my runway collections. He said: “Be true to yourself, scrutinise everything and apply it to all that you do – oversee every stitch!”