Mary Quant, fashion’s inspiration icon

Quant, one of only a few female designers who have received such an honor, is the reason why this retrospective at V&A stands out. Christian Dior is on the list, followed by Cristobal Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen. Yves Saint Laurent was also included. Allyson Stokes, a sociologist, coined the term “Glass runway” in 2015 to describe that, regardless of talent, female designers do not achieve the same level of praise and power as male designers. There is no shortage of feminist slogan t-shirts, but a subtle and long-standing imbalance is emerging within the fashion industry. Women mostly consume fashion but often created and controlled primarily by men.

Fun revolution

Quant’s Bazaar opened on Kings Road, in 1955. She showed that a woman can be both successful commercially and have fun while still maintaining creative control and power. Quant’s clothing had a playful, flirtatious feel to it. It poked fun at the conservative expectations that young women were expected to follow after World War II. This was a way to dress for a liberated new woman. Quant’s approach to making and selling clothes was refreshingly unique. She was unapologetically mass market.

Mary Quant and Alexander Plunket Greene, 1960. Photo by John Cowan courtesy of V&A. (c) John Cowan Archive

Quant started selling clothing wholesale in 1961, and in 1963, it founded the Ginger Group Diffusion line. Quant said in the catalog for the 1973 Museum of London exhibit of her designs: “fashion should be designed from the beginning for mass production, with a full understanding of mass production techniques.” This approach meant that a piece of West London’s swinging style could be found in a West Bromwich wardrobe.

Quant’s democratizing influence is reflected in the V&A’s choice to obtain 35 objects from the public. Mary Quant’s products, whether they were colorful tights or lipstick, Butterick dress patterns, or Butterick dress patterns, represented a first taste of new fashion designed by someone who knew them.

She was able to capture the spirit of youth rebellion, freedom, and the desire for something new and different while living it and selling it wholesale. Quant’s mass-market miniskirts are like sea daisies that dance across the entire fashion plot.

Almost respectable

Her parents were hard-working Welsh schoolteachers, born in mining communities and who had experienced hardships during the 1920s to 1930s. Quant’s parents wished for her to become a teacher, but they were deeply suspicious of the art-school education she sought and received.

Quant’s motives in designing clothes are what makes her so attractive. She creates the clothes that she wants to sell but can’t find anywhere else. Quant’s designs were also practical – they were clothing that made it easy to move around in. Her colorful opaque tights gave a more respectable look to the miniskirts with a low-rise waist. Her PVC raincoats, which she invented, kept wearers dry and stylish. Separates from Ginger Group collections can be mixed and matched throughout the seasons. Quant was the definition of a mod – she modernized clothing to fit the lifestyle and modern city.

Mary Quant with models at the Quant Afoot collection launch in 1967. Image courtesy of V&A

Quant’s designs also reflected a sense of sexual freedom and confidence. The uniform of the female-controlled sexual revolution was bare limbs and Lolita dresses. It also included skinny rib sweaters. Hot pants, kinky booties, and hot pants with a slit. It is still not for the conservative to read her 1967 interview, which was part of The Guardian’s “Permissive Society” series. She stunned the establishment by expressing her love for “good pornography,” telling the press that her husband had cut her pubic hair in a heart-shaped shape, and celebrating how the pill put women “in control.”

The critics of Quant’s feminist style are quick to note that her career was built with the support of two wealthy men. Her aristocratic spouse, Alexander Plunket Greene, and the entrepreneur and photographer Archie McNair. Quant’s talent for design, her tenacity, and her thorough understanding of female consumer desires were the keys to success.

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