“Mary Quant ‘and a bunch of other pretty Chelsea Birds’ have revolutionized fashion.”
Daily Telegraph, John Crosby, April 30, 1965
This week, V&A Dundee reopened with a new exhibition highlighting the work of Mary Quant, a fashion designer of the 1960s. As part of the youth revival that revitalized British culture in music, fashion and film, Quant, born in Blackheath, London, became a household name in the 1960s.
Though she wasn’t the first designer to wear the hemline above the knee (it is also claimed by French couturier Andre Courreges), Quant’s signature became the very short skirts and sheath dresses also modelled by Twiggy. Her bob hair, designed by Vidal Sassoon, led to the recognition of Quant as well. The skinny rib sweater and hot pants were also her responsibility.
The designs of Quant emerged from her quest for a fresh look and new ideas about what it would be like to be feminine. “I grew up not wanting to grow up,” she once said. “Growing up seemed awful. It meant having cotton candy hair, high heels, girdles and big boobs. To me it was horrible; kids were free and healthy and adults were ugly.”
Her theories struck a chord and, as a result, she played a major role in defining the look of the 1960s, at least on Chelsea streets and in the day’s fashion magazines and weekend supplements.
When she was studying illustration at Goldsmith’s, Quant met her future husband, Alexander Plunket Greene. He came out of old cash, but he was a Bohemian Soho. The pair were part of the much-lauded Chelsea cast in 1950s London. “Our friends and acquaintances were painters, photographers, architects, writers, celebrities, actors, con men and better chicks,” Quant wrote in her 1966 memoir Quant on Quant.
The couple purchased 138a King’s Road in 1955, along with business partner Archie McNair, with plans to open it as a boutique, with Plunket Greene’s Bistro on the first floor.
The boutique, called Bazaar, initially sold clothes that Quant herself bought from art students, jewellers, and milliners, expressing her own tastes to a great degree. As this proved popular and stocks dwindled, she bought Harrods fabrics and produced her own designs overnight in her student digs with her parents, selling them the next morning in the shop.
Sometimes in bright colors, Quant’s clothes were casual, and she had an eye for reinventing conventional details. She also had a fascination for new fabrics that she used to make wet-look skirts, such as PVC. Her designs might be androgynous, taking menswear’s familiar fabrics, designs and concepts and using them for her own purposes.
A satin top and matching shorts from Mary Quant’s 1966 intimate clothing collection are modelled by Kellie Wilson.
Women had to dress all their lives… the way a man saw them in their lives,”All their lives, women had to dress…the way the man in their lives saw them,” “She was never allowed to dress the way she really is. I wanted to design clothes for real people.”
She signed a contract with JC Penney, an American chain store, in 1962, and launched a new, cheaper diffusion brand, Ginger Party, a year later. By the end of the decade, she was the country’s best-known fashion designer and it was reported that at least one of her items was bought by as many as seven million women in Britain.
In the 1970s, she diversified into cosmetics (the Daisy range) and interior design for the retailer ICI, including rugs, bedding and wallpaper.
Clothing,”Clothing is a statement about yourself or what you want to be,”is a statement about yourself or what you want to be. An idea for herself that she put into motion.
Mary Quant runs until Jan. 17, 2021 at V&A Dundee. Visit vam.ac.uk/Dundee/maryquant for more information.