Nearly 50 years after the last Mary Quant retrospective, tomorrow the V&A will open its doors to the highly anticipated exhibition celebrating all aspects of the legendary British designer's legacy. Focusing on the years between 1955 and 1975, the museum's latest fashion installation will explore the two decades in which "Quant revolutionised the high street, harnessing the youthful spirit of the '60s and new mass production techniques to create a new look for women."
Quant was integral to London's Swinging Sixties scene and championed affordable fashion for the everywoman. Her colour-pop hues, graphic patterns and sky-high, thigh-climbing mini skirts are well documented, but the exhibition feels more relevant than ever.
Statistics published by the Fawcett Society in 2017 show that 41% of men aged 18-24 say that a woman who is drunk and wearing a short skirt is "totally or partially to blame" for their sexual assault. Sure, wearing a mini skirt in 2019 may not feel like a radical act, but when slut shaming still takes place both in the street and in court, there's no underestimating the continued significance of the mini in wider society.
"In this age of #MeToo, with many women historically feeling marginalised and overlooked, the timing couldn’t be more perfect to celebrate a woman whose trailblazing career inspired and liberated women from conventional and stifling rules and regulations – and from dressing like their mothers," exhibition curators Jenny Lister and Stephanie Wood tell Refinery29. "Now is the perfect time to recognise a woman who was a powerful role model for working women and whose vision and steely determination enabled her to succeed in a male-dominated environment."
Back in June 2018, the V&A launched a campaign called #WeWantQuant, encouraging people to send in any Mary Quant-related pieces, from photographs, makeup and magazines to original garments. "With over 1,000 replies to date, the response has been overwhelming," they explain. "We’ve included 50 photographs of the women wearing their beloved Quant clothes. It’s a testament to how much Quant meant to women that they kept them for so many years."
"Many women came forward with Quant clothing made for special occasions like their weddings and we have also uncovered rare examples such as a very early, boldly printed top bought by a research scientist to meet her geologist fiancé returning from a trip in Antarctica, and a PVC raincoat worn and lovingly kept by two generations of women in the same family – underlining the longevity of many of Mary's designs. We are also featuring a dress homemade from a Mary Quant designed dressmaking pattern for the wearer's 21st birthday."
Speaking with four of the women who submitted their photographs to the V&A for the exhibition, we heard stories of just how much Quant and her designs meant to young women of the '60s and '70s. Quant's pieces meant sexual liberation, a launchpad out of humdrum suburban life, and rebellion against one's parents. Click through to see just how much the iconic designer meant to these women.