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“Celia is a droll observer. Her work is always lively and ‘pretty’.”
“Celia’s designs are heaven. They are original, beautiful and like works of art.”
“Celia is one of the most talented textile designers ever. She’s brilliant….”
Muse of David Hockney and partner of Ossie Clark, Celia Birtwell is and was the most important textile designer of her generation. She has been described as the face that launched a thousand prints and her major contribution to the world of interiors and fashion has taken her on a rollercoaster ride that started with a textile design course at Salford School of Art in 1956. It was during her years here that she gained international momentum when she met the fledgling fashion designer, Ossie Clark, in the Cona Coffee Bar in Manchester.
In 1961 Celia moved to Notting Hill where she took various jobs, lived in some colourful establishments and socialised with the swinging sixties bohemian crowd. Whilst working in the wig department at the Aldwych Theatre, she met the production designer, Anthony Powell and the painter, Hugh McKinnon, who encouraged her to start designing textiles again, which she quickly did and consequently sold her first design to Heals. Yet, it was not until 1965 when she started designing textiles for Ossie’s collections that Celia gained international critical acclaim as a textile designer.
Whilst Ossie lived the rock and roll life Celia drew her inspiration from a more romantic and classical world. Hers was one of Vita Sackville West’s garden, Leon Bakst’s costumes for the Ballet Russes, Picasso and Matisse. Her romanticism and optimism was brought to life by the hand of Ossie who sculpted her prints into silk chiffon, jersey or crepe de chine collections.
From 1967 to 1973 Celia and Ossie were the toast of the fashion industry and dressed everyone from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Hendrix, Paloma Picasso, Talitha Getty, Patty Boyd, Twiggy and Marianne Faithful all the way to the British Aristocracy. It was during this time that Dave Gilmore drove a van for Ossie before he found fame in his band, Pink Floyd.
Celia and Ossie had two sons together: Albert born in 1969, who has gone onto become a renowned chef; and George in 1971, who worked for Celia before working as an art director in the film industry.
It was during the early seventies that David Hockney painted “Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy” which today remains one of the most viewed paintings in the Tate Britain gallery. In 2005 it was short listed for the title, ‘The Greatest British Painting’ on the BBC’s Today programme.
With the collapse of her marriage in 1973, Celia left the fashion industry to raise her children and teach at colleges across London, including Chelsea School of Art. She continued to be painted and drawn by David Hockney and it was with his help and support that, in 1984, she decided to start designing again. With a need to have complete control over her designs Celia decided to open a shop in Notting Hill’s Westbourne Park Road and she quickly established herself as a force to be reckoned with in the world of interiors.
Celia has always designed with a desire to amuse herself and her audience and her innovative, witty style has often produced designs that have challenged the interior world. She has drawn inspiration from life around her, from works at the V&A, Kew Gardens, life in Notting Hill and more recently, her grandchildren.
Her shop on Westbourne Park Road has been described as a “tiny treasure trove”, “an Aladdin’s cave” and “London’s best kept secret”, housing her huge archive and showing off her unique immense style attracting a discerning and prestigious clientele.
Celia’s fabrics hang in many international hotels including Claridges, The Lanesborough, The Grand Hotel in Leeds and Burj Al Arab, the worlds first seven star hotel and renowned retailers like Conran, Liberties and Harvey Nichols have stocked her ranges.
Her distinctive bold, romantic and feminine designs have inspired collections throughout the fashion industry whilst her and Ossie’s style has been present on the catwalk across the globe for the past four decades. It is no wonder, then, that her enduring style has enticed some of UK’s most respected designers, retailers & manufacturers to seek an invitation to collaborate with her on an ever-growing array of fashion and lifestyle products.
Celia was always the single driving force in her business and it was in 2006, prior to the launch of the hugely successful and critically acclaimed collaboration with Top Shop, that she decided to retire from managing the business and hand the reins over to her son, George and daughter in law, Bella.
Together, George and Bella set out to realise their dream; to build the Celia Birtwell brand into a national treasure, enchanting & inspiring Celia’s fans with her playful and celebrated designs.
In 2011 Celia was awarded a CBE in the Queens Birthday Honours List for her outstanding contribution to fashion and in September of the same year she launched the very first book dedicated to Celia’s life in design.
2012 saw the closing of Celia’s shop on Westbourne Park. Although it was emotional for sentimental reasons the business had to adapt to changing times and buying patterns by focusing on selling on line and nurturing interior designers.
In 2013 Celia Birtwell collaborated with Japanese retail giant, Unilqo on a couple of collections using vintage & contemporary prints on a range of dresses, tshirts, jeggings and more. Released across the globe it received rave reviews and hailed as “wonderfully wearable everyday chic!”
A style icon with a rich and colourful history she continues to design and delight her fans across the globe with her latest and most prestigious collaboration with the venerable Maison Valentino. Celia’s exquisite designs have been interpreted into a desirable and wearable Pre Fall collection for 2015 with more to follow….