With a collection spanning over 200 garments, the V&A will attempt to describe iconic 60s fashion designer Mary Quant’s seismic impact on the fashion industry. Quant’s era defining miniskirts, high hemlines and hot pants helped ushered in a fashion revolution and the British high street would never be the same again.
Bold, innovative and not afraid to shake things up, Quant had an intuitive understanding of what young Britons wanted and the courage and conviction to disregard convention in order to service her instincts. In doing so, the designer became a key ingredient in what became known as the Swinging Sixties – the heady period of youth driven cultural change which helped usher in new trends in music, fashion and art. London was at centre of the movement.
Quant was born in leafy Blackheath to a pair of welsh schoolteachers. When she was 17, Quant’s parents refused their fashion obssessed daughter’s request to study fashion. The would be designer instead began a course in illustration at Goldsmiths. It was here that Quant met her future husband, the aristocrat Alexander Plunket Greene.
After graduating with a diploma in art education in 1953, the young Londoner went to work for Eric of Brook Street, a renowned London milliner.
In 1955, Plunket Greene purchased a house on the King’s Road, Chelsea and he and Quant began to associate with what became known as the ‘Chelsea Set’. A trendy young group of artists and socialites, the group were already beginning to challenge the ways in which people lived and dressed in the 1960s. Quant and Plunket Greene were to prove excellent additions to the group.
The pair (alongside their friend Archie McNair) opened a restaurant (Alexander’s) and a boutique (Bazaar) at Markham House. Initially, Quant filled the shop with wholesale products, however after growing frustrated by the quality of the clothes available, she decided to begin designing and selling her own graments.
Due to a lack of funds to purchase stock, Quant initiated a bold method of garment production where the proceeds from the day’s sales were used to purchase material for the next day’s clothes. These new garments were then stitched together overnight. It was a system fraught with potential pitfalls, but it also meant that the shop were able to offer the very latest fashions. This approach fitted neatly into the late sixties public desire for ever changing fashions.
Bazaar was to make a dramatic impact on the high street of the 1960s. With its non stop party atmosphere, free drinks and loud music. Bazaar was much more than another clothing store. The fact that it was open until late meant that it became a destination even late into the evening and young Londoners travelled for hours to visit the store that everyone was talking about.
Quant’s Chelsea Set had a huge influence on the designer, as did the mods, a subculture that had attracted huge numbers to its defined dress code and rebellious outlook.
Quant’s first collections were influenced by this street culture and by the people she met in her day to day life. Quant challenged the established of the 1960s fashion designer by creating clothes for everyday life. Clothes that were designed to be worn by normal people doing normal things. For the fashion industry, it was a bold and revolutionary move.
Soon, Quant was challenging the conventions of the 1960s in a much more dramatic way. The designer made the mini skirt iconic (although some confusion remains about whether she invented the garment). The skirt initially sent ripples of horror through the British establishment, seemly representing all that was wrong with the youth of the age. However, it became a runaway hit with the youth of the day, with the model Twiggy popularising the look in a serious of iconic images. The designer was to go on to invent two more icon of the sixties – hot pants and the ‘skinny rib’ sweater. Quant also caused a stir by incorporating previously unused materials like PVC.
The new exhibition will include a vast array of garments from Quant’s long career including several previously unseen pieces from the designer’s personal archive.
You can find more information about the exhibition here.
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Mary Quant at the V&A will open on Saturday 6th April and will run until Sunday the 16th February 2020.