Interview: Nicholas Georgiou, designer at Ossie Clarke
This year, Ossie Clarke London came back with a bang, exclusive to Debenhams Ireland. I spoke to Nicholas Georgiou, a designer with Ossie Clarke London, about reinventing a classic
This year, Ossie Clarke, the womenswear label that had its heyday in London’s swinging sixties had a triumphant comeback with a collection of slick dresses, available in Ireland exclusively at Debenhams. I sat down with Nicholas Georgiou, head designer of the new range, to talk about what it meant to him to revitalise a label that meant so much to so many.
We’ve all heard of Ossie Clarke, but usually in the context of talking about a fashionable past, or detailing the many celebrities who have worn vintage Ossie Clarke at red-carpet events: Emma Watson, for one, or Sienna Miller. With such a wealth of history and a strong back catalogue to work from, how does one go about reimagining a legendary label?
“What we’re trying to do is make the product right for today’s market,” says Nicholas Georgiou, the man tasked with bringing Ossie back, with a contemporary range of high-quality, low(ish)-cost clothing. “The range highlights the strengths of special dresses, beautiful dresses, dresses that have that wow factor in them. We’ve taken the vintage influence from where Ossie Clarke used to be – the gathers, the drapes, the bias cutting, which is something you’ll see featured throughout the range.”
Debenhams is a name we’ve seen partnered with many high-end labels over the past few years: Preen, Roksanda Ilincic and Matthew Williamson – so what did it mean to partner with Debenhams to sell the range?
“Well, their customer profile is great, a good cross section from young to the mature woman,” says Georgiou. “I would say it’s women that are looking at people like Emily Blunt, Emma Watson, Sienna Miler, all these girls have a very sort of sophisticated look but still have that rock’n’roll sort of attitude. We have the snakeskin jacket in there, you can put that on top of a dress, it’s that whole mix that we’re looking for. They’re the sort of women I look at when I’m designing the Ossie profile, very much the modern day version of the iconic women that he was dressing at the time.”
One of the most difficult things for a designer – for any kind of artist, in fact – must be finding something new in such a sea of knowledge and history. For someone like Georgiou, whose very mission statement is reinvention rather than starting from scratch, is this frustrating, or can you still find space for invention?
“As techniques change in the industry, with the dawning of things like digital printing and some of the new fabrics, there’s so much more you can do to with a garment than you could in the 1970s and 1960s when you had predominantly rayons and viscoses, which were very rigid,” says Georgiou. “By bringing in new techniques, we can make things more fitted, more bodycon [that explains it - ed]. The relevance of 1960s and 1970s is very, very important – not just the trend but the new ways of doing them are really important. It’s the idea of mixing certain casual elements into what I would call day to evening wear, making things much more modern.”
It’s clear, speaking to Georgiou, that he’s very proud of the product he’s created under the Ossie Clarke mantel. “It’s a true designer collection, like you would find in Brown Thomas or Selfridges in London, but made right for the market at the price points that are affordable to most,” he says. “I would say we would probably sit better with brands like Marios Schwab and the Jonathan Saunders and the Preen collections currently in Debenhams. What we’re doing is pretty much a dressier day wear going into evening. Rather than aiming at any designer, I feel it’s right to say we sit right with those brands I’ve just mentioned.”
Price-wise, it’s true that the Ossie Clarke brand is more expensive than we’d expect from a high-street department store; dresses from €129 and a jacket at €209, but for Georgiou, what we’re seeing is a much more affordable version of a high-end design, with no cut corners.
“We’re using the best quality of fabrics we can get to fit in the price point,” he says. “They’re similar to the sort of fabrics you would find in Reiss, in Whistles. Even though some people said, ‘ooh, it’s polyester’, some of the new polyesters were amazing – so there’s no compromise there. I don’t want to put any stops on anything. We’re using high-shine gunmetal trims like the zip pullers and the little tags we put on garments, we’re using metallic zips that are exposed, so those kinds of things can be done on garments and make it viable. It’s down to clever cutting, costing on the garments.
“As we get into winter, you’ll start seeing woollen coats and there’ll be no compromise. What we won’t do is, we’re not going to go and buy £60 a metre heavy silks, because for us that would just be pointless. I think you can make beautiful fashion affordable nowadays. The competition’s really stiff out there, so you’ve got to keep the prices right.”
And there’s real Ossie DNA in the new collection, with a traceable bloodline in one of the Ossie Clarke pattern cutters. “I’m working with a chap called Anthony Weaver, his dad Gordon used to be Ossie Clarke’s pattern cutter, so we’ve got some of the original Ossie Clarke DNA in the mix. I’ve worked with Anthony for 16 years, he’s a brilliant pattern cutter, I’ve had to take him out of retirement and he’s loving it. So when I said to him, ‘Anthony, are you coming out of retirement? I’m working on something you might be interested in – it’s Ossie Clarke’. And he said, ‘right, I’m coming’.”