Mary Quant at the V&A
Mary Quant’s iconic designs defined the look of a generation: colourful tights, bold new materials, Peter Pan collars and, of course, the miniskirt. Starting from a tiny boutique on Chelsea’s King’s Road in 1955, and growing to become an international sensation, Quant created a middle-ground between children’s and adults’ clothes – an entirely new offering in the late 1950s.
As the new exhibition at the V&A successfully shows, the fashion designer tapped into the power of the teenager, encouraging young women to rebel against the conservative, grown-up clothes worn by their mothers. She liked to mix things up, taking inspiration from across the traditional boundaries of gender and age, offering women sharply tailored masculine trousers as well as dresses created from fabrics generally reserved for little girls.
The show charts Mary Quant’s rise, pointing to her sharp business acumen and her marketing strategies, which were very much ahead of her time. Alongside outfits and accessories from the brand’s heyday (1955-1975), the exhibition also features promotional photoshoots, her cosmetic lines and her Barbie-rivalling Daisy dolls.
Last summer, the V&A launched a public call-out to track down rare garments by the designer: the idea that ordinary people might have a Quant piece in their wardrobe suggests the widespread appeal of the brand, as well as its accessibility. The result is that the exhibition includes items worn and used by real people, rather than being drawn solely from the museum archives.
Jenny Lister, co-curator of the exhibition, said: “This long-overdue exhibition shows how Mary Quant’s brand connected with her customers, how she made designer fashion affordable for working women, and how her youthful, revolutionary clothes, inspired by London’s creative scene, made British streetstyle the global influence it remains today.”
But more than anything, the clothes are fun. Full of the joy of youth, this exhibition makes clear their enduring appeal. Mary Quant was a pioneer in a pinafore.
Featured Image: Mary Quant and models at the Quant Afoot footwear collection launch, 1967,
Victoria and Albert Museum
Mary Quant is at the V&A from 6th April until 16th February 2020. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.