I feel I have a slight affinity with Celia Birtwell. She started her career as a fashion print designer as did I. I have always been inspired by her work. Her prints are stylish, vintage but clean and stunningly beautiful. They are considered, distinctivly bold, romantic and feminine. Her early prints are influenced by Picasso, Matisse and from the classical world. She was well known for her prints which epitomised the 1960s/70s.
She said when being interviewed on desert island discs how she would pack everything into one print and had to learn to spread out her ideas into a collection. Something I struggled with too. It’s so easy to be bursting with ideas.
In 1959 she met the fashion designer Ossie Clark. Theirs was almost a perfect marriage of style, and their work together helped define the era. The collaboration began with a 1966 collection for the Quorum boutique in London, which they shared with the designer Alice Pollock. It was the Clarks who began the modern catwalk show.
I love this painting of Celia and Ossie painted by David Hockney.
Birtwell worked from home designing textiles for Clark, who would use his skill in cutting and understanding of form, together with her knowledge of fabrics and textures to produce haute couture for the 1960s culture. Their clients included Marianne Faithfull, Bianca Jagger, Verushka, Paloma Picasso, Talitha Getty and numerous other celebrities.
After the break-up of her marriage from Clark, Birtwell continued in fashion, designing for the Radley label for a time, until in 1984 she set up a shop on Westbourne Park Road in Bayswater, selling fabrics for the home. Again she built up a reputation for innovative and witty design. Her first success came with her own take on a 16th century animal print she called ‘Animal Solo’, followed later by the first, and much copied, white on white voile and muslin fabrics. These fabrics are now to be seen in many homes, hotels and public spaces, including Claridges and the Lanesborough hotels in London.
In 2005, it was announced that she would design clothing for the high street chain Topshop, beginning with Spring/Summer 2006. Her first collection was a huge success, selling out within minutes of the shops’ opening.
Celia Birtwell is a style icon and a truly inspiring woman.