”From miniskirts and hot pants to vibrant tights and makeup, discover how Mary Quant launched a fashion revolution on the British high street, with over 200 garments and accessories, including unseen pieces from the designer’s personal archive. ”
This time, the V&A’s fashion and textiles display has brought us straight into the swinging sixties with the ‘Mary Quant‘ exhibition which it is currently housing. Covering many aspects and influences of the brand, this exhibition explains how Quant built such a successful label and how it came to influence the way we shop today.
The begins of the brand were humble, with Quant stitching together pieces of an evening upstairs from her shop ‘Bazaar’ to be sold the following day. The inspiration for her pieces was drawn from necessity. Quant saw that girls didn’t necessarily want to dress like smaller versions of their mothers and wanted to make their own fashion choices. She identified that these people thought of themselves as more ‘easy going’ and ‘broad minded’ than the previous generation and wanted to express themselves as such; stepping away from the constrictive girdles of the 50’s and into more flexible, playful pieces. You might say that what Mary Quant did for fashion in the 60’s was a kin to what Chanel did in the 20’s, providing a more comfortable alternative to the restrictive fashions of the previous decade and in turn allowing the wearer to make socio-political statements about themselves their beliefs (women’s roles in society and decorum for example).
The Quant brand started as a way to offer an alternative way to dress, however there was always a strong undertone of inclusivity in the designs, and here we can see how Quant channels the 50’s shape she had previously moved away from. Reimagining it in a more comfortable wrap around style in a soft cotton fabric, she started to appeal to a whole new group to expand her following.
Manhattan dress (circa 1970)
Upstairs the exhibition moves on to more about how the brand expanded as times moved on, displaying pieces from the 70’s onwards. You can see how the styles developed with the times, but Quant managed to balance the changing styles with some of her classic brand features.
Another area in which Quant was a revolutionary was in her makeup range. Like with the fashion, the makeup grew out of necessity as Mary felt that the people who were buying her items, needed to be able to do more natural, lighter make up to compliment the fashion choices they had made. Other make up brands available at the time promoted a much heavier made up look, which didn’t necessarily reflect the look people wearing Quant’s clothes wanted to create for themselves.
Here we can see how the strength of the branding comes into play. They focused on simplifying the process of making yourself up in the products which are often have multiple uses, were made to be able to fit into palettes for easy storage. The names also simply state what they do whilst having a sense of humour: ‘Cheeky’, ‘Tan Trap’ and ‘Grease Paint’ for example.
From an embroidery perspective, there unsurprisingly isn’t much featured in this exhibition as it is more of a luxury technique (particularly during this time). However it is an interesting exhibition to look at from a textiles/ production view point as the brand being one of the first high street shops aimed at a younger market. Though there is an emphasis on accessibility for more people into fashion and therefore a lower than their contemporary competitors price points for the items, there is still great quality to these items. This testament is shown in the vibrancy and how well the garments have still held their shape, particularly on pieces you can see have been worn and loved, but still are in great condition. It draws a stark contrast to some of the throw away fashion we have come to know when we think about ”accessibility” on today’s high street. There are echo’s of the global responsibility we have for the planet in the fashion industry which was introduced in the ‘Fashioned by Nature‘ exhibition the V&A Museum held last year.
If this has tickled your fancy, the Mary Quant exhibition is on at the V&A Museum until 16th Feb 2020, tickets start at £12.00