London's Victoria & Albert Museum has announced its next blockbuster fashion exhibition: Mary Quant, the first international retrospective of the revolutionary designer in nearly 50 years. You may have heard of Quant, who's often mentioned in the same breath as the Swinging Sixties, but contemporary fashion owes her so much more.
After studying illustration at Goldsmiths and becoming a milliner's apprentice, Quant began designing and making clothes for her boutique, Bazaar, in 1955, which was located above her partner Alexander Plunket Greene's restaurant. Beginning with vinyl Peter Pan collars, oversized men's cardigans designed to be worn as dresses, and brightly hued knitwear, the one-woman show soon grew into a team of machinists as Quant opened more branches across the city.
Quant was a cornerstone of the '60s 'youthquake' movement. Previously, teenagers dressed like their parents in gray, formal attire, but a new wave of designers and musicians encouraged them to express their individuality and creativity in unprecedented ways. Worn by models like Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, and Penelope Tree, Quant's playful and subversive designs reached a generation ready to shun tradition and embrace its own subcultures and identities. When a new piece dropped at Bazaar, women would travel across the city to cop their latest fix; her boutique had the cult status of Supreme.
For the exhibition, the V&A has been granted unprecedented access to Mary Quant's archive. Excitingly, alongside 200 acquired pieces, Quant and the museum are calling for original designs bought by women in the '60s, to go on display during the show. Using the hashtag #WeWantQuant, curator Jenny Lister issued a nationwide callout: "We want to hear from women who wore Mary’s radical designs and experienced the appeal of the Mary Quant brand at first-hand. To help us tell these incredible stories, we are asking people to check attics, cupboards, as well as family photo albums, for the chance to feature in our exhibition."
Fun fact: The miniskirt has become synonymous with Quant and, whether or not she designed the first one — many argue it was French designer — it's accepted that she popularized the era-defining piece. But Quant did more than just liberate women from twinsets and pearls. Inspired by the sharp tailoring of the Mods, plus the dancers and beatniks of Chelsea, she was among the first to dress women in trousers — a world away from the demure, calf-length pencil skirts of their mothers.
Fashion tights may have been seen on the spring 2018 runways, but back in the '60s, Quant was making vibrant hosiery in vivid yellows and pinks. Experimenting with materials, she was the first designer to use vinyl widely in her collections, creating PVC raincoats and boots like those seen on street stylers today. And we'd be remiss not to mention Quant also created the hot pant, brought out diffusion lines, and a makeup range — complete with collectable, kitschy packaging — and was the UK's highest profile designer of the time. Like we said — so much more than a miniskirt.
Quant, 88, who became a dame in 2015, said: "The V&A is such a precious and iconic organization for which I have the utmost admiration and respect, and it is a huge honor to be recognized by them with this dedicated exhibition and book. It was a wonderfully exciting time and despite the frenetic, hard work we had enormous fun. We didn’t necessarily realize that what we were creating was pioneering, we were simply too busy relishing all the opportunities and embracing the results before rushing on to the next challenge! Friends have been extremely generous in loaning, and in many cases, donating garments and accessories to the V&A which they have lovingly cherished for many years, so it will be fascinating to see what else will emerge! I am enormously grateful to have been involved with so many talented people whose contribution to that ground-breaking, revolutionary, and memorable era will also be recognized."
Mary Quant runs at the Victoria & Albert Museum from April 6, 2019 to March 8, 2020. Tickets will go on sale in fall 2018.