I’m afraid I simply cannot bite my tongue and let this go. It feels like barely a moment since I was last ranting about Ossie Clark relaunches, although in fact it was back in 2008. Back then, we were fobbed off with tales of ‘Houses’ and quality and how nobody was just going to copy Ossie’s original designs. So how long did that relaunch last? Three seasons. And what were the clothes like? Ebay is currently flooded with these lousy scraps of fabric bearing the name of a man who had nothing to do with them.
Now here we are again. Ossie Clark at Debenhams. You might wonder why I didn’t kick up an angry song and dance about the House of Fraser usage of the Biba brand for purely commercial ends. To be honest, like many people I have something approaching Biba relaunch fatigue. Frankly I’m almost at the point of vintage fatigue, thanks to the endless pilfering of ‘inspirations’ which are frequently little more than duplications (see Kate Moss for Topshop… in fact, see Topshop. Full stop.) and the, albeit fair enough, archive collections by Laura Ashley and River Island’s Chelsea Girl. I may or may not have walked past a House of Fraser store window, decked with faux Biba, and flipped the finger. It didn’t seem worth blogging about though. I just sit and judge from a distance.
Back to the matter at hand, however. Ossie Clark at Debenhams? What next? Thea Porter at Boohoo.com? Bill Gibb at ASOS? Why have the rights to the Ossie Clark name once again been sold to someone thoroughly undeserving (this time to Alison Mansell Ltd)? Why is the identity of a dead man being stolen to sell cheap, nasty, derivative clothes for the profit of big business? Why is nobody in the fashion world questioning it?
On both Vogue.co.uk and Elleuk.com, press releases were regurgitated with fervour. Cosmopolitan got it hideously wrong with talk of ‘boho hippy chic’ (do some research and learn some new words…). The Debenhams blog piled on the insults by not even being able to spell Ossie’s name correctly. Clark. Not Clarke. I repeat, do some research. People on twitter were retweeting with suitably snivelling cries of ‘fashion happiness!’ ‘can’t wait!’ and ‘exciting stuff!’. Phrases such as “Ossie relaunches” are bandied about, despite the fact that a dead man cannot relaunch himself.
“mixture of new designs alongside a limited run of previously unreleased and remastered vintage pieces”
Previously unreleased? Is there a cupboard full of ‘demo’ Ossies out there somewhere? And please don’t use the word ‘remastered’ when you really mean “duplicated in a cheaper fabric”. Excuse me while I weep into my moss crepe sleeve…
Ossie was not a brand. He was a genius. An unreliable, infuriating, naturally talented genius. An individual who never sought to and, in fact, never managed to create a viable business, nor a brand, nor a ‘house’. He never played by the rules. He could barely keep himself together long enough to do anything for anyone else. He fell out with just about everyone who ever tried to control or tame him. The work we know best was work reluctantly done for Radley, after they swooped in to rescue Alice Pollock’s flailing Quorum business. The work of which he was proudest was done for the Quorum collections, or as one-off commissions from friends and the famous faces he attracted.
He was a maverick and a genius, and to use his name as though he were some random King’s Road boutique is an insult to his memory.
But then this isn’t about respect or regard, it’s not even about fashion. This is about cash. Pure and simple. The Ossie name commands high prices in the vintage world. I should know. But those high prices are because the pieces are finite. There will never be any more original Ossie Clarks than there currently are. People pay those prices because they want something designed by the man himself, with the history and quality that they hold within their fibres and stitches.
I know. Isn’t it awful. Vintage Ossie Clark will never be cheap and plentiful. Boo hoo. I work hard to afford to own the pieces I own myself. And I am not a wealthy person, I am so very far from it. I sell other pieces to people who also work hard and save, and save, to buy a piece for themselves. Producing something cheap and new under the same name will not redress this. You still won’t own a piece of Ossie Clark, I promise you.
Debenhams and Alison Mansell Ltd do not care about fashion history. They do not care about clothes. They certainly do not care about Ossie Clark. They only want your money. But when the fashion industry is looping around on itself like a spirograph, and there are no places left to go, then they take their opportunities wherever they can. And if that means trampling all over the name and legacy of a dead man, then trample they will.
And if you doubt what I say about the quality, please take a moment to look at the dress they have been using as their sole image so far. It speaks for itself.
Edited to note that the Daily Mail featured quotes from this blog in an article about the controversy, seemingly inspired by a column by Janet Street-Porter (also in the Mail) in which she also strongly criticised this relaunch.