Why I want to go to London to see Mary Quant at the V&A Museum

April 12, 2019

Mary Quant and models at the Quant Afoot footwear collection launch, 1967 © PA Prints 2008

I can’t wait to go to London to see the Mary Quant exhibition at the V&A because the designer is much more than “the mother of the mini-skirt”, she revolutionised fashion in the Sixties, changing the way young women dressed and looked all over the world, and even twenty years later, Mary Quant’s fashion of the ’60s was still a strong influence in my teen years during the ’80s.

The Mary Quant Beauty Bus, 1971 ©  INTERFOTO  Alamy Stock Photo

Mary Quant began her fashion revolution by cutting her grandmother’s skirts shorter, and her hair in a short Bob in the late ’50s. She opened the shop Bazaar in the King’s Road, that became the epicentre of the Swinging Sixties in London. Bazaar used to stay open until late with a party-like atmosphere; loud music and drinks, something that no other shop would do in those days. Quant told that the “Kings Road girls invented the mini-skirt. I had already made the skirts short, but the customers always wanted them shorter”.

The British designer wanted to give the young working women freedom to move in modern and comfortable clothes. For the first time, girls did not have to wear the same as their mothers. The tight corseted skirt suits from Dior gave way to mini-skirts, baby-doll dresses and tailored pants, and the perfect hairdos their mothers achieved with the use of rollers and cans of hairspray, gave way to the modern bob Vidal Sassoon created for Mary Quant and Twiggy’s pixie haircut. Nothing like this had happened before, nor after; nowadays, mothers and daughters wear the same clothes, you don’t have teenagers wanting to express themselves with a radically different fashion, children, teenagers and adult women all have the same style. 

Mary Quant with Vidal Sassoon, by Ronald Dumont, 1964 @Ronal Dumont/Stringer/Getty Images

When young women started wearing Mary Quant’s ultra-short dresses, they shocked many and even received warnings from the police, but Queen Elizabeth proved to be much more forward-thinking than you might imagine, by granting the pioneering designer a medal of honour for her services to the fashion industry in 1966. By the end of the ’60s, even Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent were presenting mini-skirts in their collections.

Mary Quant’s eponymous label made clothes more accessible to all by using mass production and new textiles. Quant broke barriers between classes, saying that “snobbery is out of fashion, in our shops you will find duchesses jostling with typists to buy the same dress”. In the late ‘60s, the designer began using PVC to make knee-high boots and colourful raincoats, and also launched a cosmetic line because she couldn’t find makeup that would suit her modern outfits. By the way, although Mary Quant retired, her makeup brand still exists and is quite popular in Japan.

Mary Quant selecting fabric, 1967 @Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty Images

Mary Quant was able to capture the spirit of the times; young people were rebelling against the establishment, going from the ultra-conservative, black&white ‘50s to being in the forefront of a cultural and social revolution in the colourful ’60s, with The Beatles, Pirate radio stations and the iconic Twiggy wearing Mary Quant’s minis.

Interestingly, from the ’60s until today, the discussion about women’s clothes continues the same; do the clothes you wear define you? Do short and revealing looks give women freedom or objectify them? With the comeback of mini-skirts and the #NoIsNo campaign, Mary Quant is not a nostalgic exhibition; it is very relevant to what we’re living in 2019. 

You can visit the V&A exhibition until the 16th of February 2020.

Images Courtesy from V&A