Fashion Profile: Mary Quant
Mary Quant, a Welsh fashion designer, has become a British icon through her influential role in the Mod fashion movement of the 60s.
Born: 11th February 1934
Famous for: Helping create a the defining style of the 60s - mod fashion.
Style Characteristics: Quant designed the mini-skirt (one of the most defining fashions of the 1960s) and popularised hot pants.
Mary Quant was born to Welsh parents, who had moved to London to start their teaching careers. Her family had originally come from a Welsh mining background, however, Quant developed an interest in art and applied to study Illustration at Goldsmiths College (where she would later meet her future husband, Alexander Plunkett-Green, whom she married in 1957).
After gaining a diploma in Arts Education at Goldsmiths, Mary Quant took up an apprenticeship as a couture milliner - tying her love of art and fashion. It was during this apprenticeship that Mary Quant decided fashion should not exist for the priveleged few (much like the clients at the milliners) but for everyone, and more importantly, young people.
Leaving her position as a couture milliner, Mary Quant opened a clothes shop on the King's Road, in London. Quant opened the boutique, Bazaar, with her future husband and a former solicitor, Archie McNair.
After graduating from Goldsmiths, Quant had begun to make her own clothes as she strongly believed that fashion was directed at older generations ("fashion wasn't designed for young people"). She used the skills she had developed during this time to design for Bazaar.
Mary saw this need for more youthful clothing and began to design clothes inspired by dance outfits she remembered wearing as a child; pairing simple, bold shapes with strong colours to create her garments - creating the "Chelsea Look", which would later become known as "mod". Other garments that helped Mary create the Chelsea Look were plastic collars, sleeveless shift dresses and hot pants - these were more revealing than previous fashions and many items of clothing used man made fabrics which was something never before seen.
The reason for her success was that she saw that girls in London were seeking a fresh look, they wanted to differentiate themselves from their parents (who were still immersed in the restrictive and "bland" fashions of the 40s and 50s). The mini skirt provided girls with a look that pushed the boundaries of fashion, aiming to shock the older generations. This controversy earned Quant the popularity she needed to develop as an iconic fashion designer.
"It had begun to dawn on us that, by luck, by chance, perhaps even by mistake, we were onto a huge thing. We were in at the beginning of a tremendous renaissance in fashion".
The Mini Skirt
Famed for popularising, if not inventing, the miniskirt in 1966, the Welsh designer had revolutionised fashion (becoming known as one of the most popular designers of the 60s).
Skirts had noticeably been getting shorter since the late 50s. Although there is some controversy as to whether or not she invented the mini skirt, Quant certainly noticed the difference in skirt length and exploited it to the extreme of the mini skirt. Mary Quant considered this development to be a practical and liberating design as it allowed women to embrace and almost flaunt their sexuality.
"It was the girls on the King's Road who invented the mini. I was making easy, youthful, simple clothes; in which you could move, run and jump. We would make them the length the customer wanted, they would say "shorter, shorter" and we followed by command".
As Quant's designs were fashionable and affordable, it was suddenly acceptable and even mandatory to show a lot of leg as it was made available to everyone.
In accompaniment to the mini skirt, patterned tights were sold at Bazaar to complete the look that defined the 60s (later adapted by couture designers such as Cristobal Balenciaga).
Quant was a wonderful advertisement for her own designs. Her short, dark Vidal Sassoon hair style, easy-fitting blazer jackets and swingings skirts made her clothes more stylised. Customers would be inspired by Mary herself as she showed them how to create the more fashionable styles.
Like Barbara Hulanicki (designer for Biba), Quant designed for a girlish, less developed figure. The shift dresses and pinafores suited the boyish look promoted by models like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton.
Mary Quant revolutionised 60s fashion by providing new clothes for younger markets. Fashion was not catering for the youth of Britain at the time, and so Quant designed to target such a gap in the market. She became popularised by the controversy surrounding the garments she created and her business thrived off this - eventually turning her into a British fashion icon.
Nigel Bamford talking about working with Mary Quant - for the V&A
A showcase of some of Mary Quant's designs from the late 60s.