Mary Quant is so much more than her Vidal Sassoon haircut. She was a pioneer of affordable accessible fashion and the most iconic fashion designer of the 1960s. Mary Quant created fashion for everyone.
From now until 16 February 2020, the latest V&A museum exhibition is a retrospective of Mary Quant’s career. The designer herself collaborated with the exhibition so amongst the garments are pieces from Mary’s personal archive. It is the most complete exhibition of Mary Quant’s work to date.
“The fashionable woman wears clothes. The clothes don’t wear her.” Mary Quant
By the mid-1950’s austerity in Britain was finally over and the next generation was desperate for fashion that was fun, accessible and unconventional. This was the era when the Beatles gave us the music and Mary Quant gave us the look. It was the dawn of a new age.
Hot pants, brightly coloured tights, berets, skinny ribbed stripy sweaters and knee high white plastic boots, Mary Quant brought them all to the masses and a fashion revolution was born.
Contrary to popular belief Mary Quant didn’t invent the miniskirt. It was her customers who demanded shorter and shorter hemlines, so that’s exactly what she did and by doing so the miniskirt became her trademark.
The demand for new and exciting designs was so insatiable that in 1963 Mary took PVC to a whole new level incorporating it into her creations and calling it the Wet Collection. Shiny and colourful, PVC was modern, sexy and encapsulated everything about this new era of cool fashion.
“Fashion is not frivolous. It is part of being alive today.” Mary Quant
Mary had changed the way people dressed so their make-up had to change too. She created a cosmetics range that included the ‘Paintbox’, a box of brightly coloured crayons that could be used for eyeshadow or simply to draw flowers on your cheeks.
The packaging was edgy, black and white plastic and emblazoned with the Mary Quant daisy logo. Following the success of the cosmetics range, in 1967 Mary launched Cry Baby mascara. A great addition to her make-up collection but more importantly with a low price point it made her brand even more accessible to her followers. Teenagers may have struggled to buy Mary’s latest dresses but most could stretch to a waterproof mascara and thus belong to her fashion movement.
“Most of my memories of the 60s are ones of optimism, high spirits and confidence.” Mary Quant
Mary Quant made shopping sexy at her store, Bazaar, on the Kings Road. You could browse the shopping rails whilst drinking free drinks and listening to the latest music. It wasn’t just a shop, it was a scene and soon became a lifestyle. Bazaar on the Kings Road was the ultimate shopping experience and something that current department stores strive to emulate to this day.
Mary Quant’s daisy design was the iconic logo of her brand. A brand that included everything from homewares, make-up, underwear, home sewing patterns and brightly coloured tights. Mary became the first designer with a portfolio brand. Fashion brands are so prolific nowadays but by creating a brand in the 1960s, Mary was ahead of her time.
“Fashion is a tool…to compete in life outside the home.” Mary Quant
This V&A exhibition is a fitting tribute to a fashion pioneer who dressed her generation in fun, inventive and colourful designs. Mary Quant gave her customers fashion that has endured the test of time and designs that continue to influence modern designers. Her iconic style still impacts today’s high street.
However Mary’s true legacy is that her fashion helped empower a whole generation of women. Fashion may seem shallow to some but it is a form of self expression and with the help of the miniskirt, it liberated the women of the sixties.
Words and photos by Tanya Taylor © 2019