Don’t miss: Mary Quant at the V&A
‘Hey luv, Mary’s here!’ was the slogan JC Penney used to attract customers when designer Mary Quant and her collection hit New York in the 1960s, and 50-years later this should be emblazoned above the doorway to the V&A. Quant was a trailblazer who like Coco Chanel revolutionised the way women dressed – and made affordable fashion available to all. The V&A’s new retrospective is bold, energetic and bags of brilliant fun. Quant’s trademark mini skirts and dresses, primary coloured tights and PVC macs are in abundance but the designer also challenged stereotypes by reinterpreting menswear and ‘borrowing from the boys’. Making suits (a shift dress over knickerbockers), pinstriped pinafores and trousers from the cloth traditionally used to make men’s tailoring, she added colourful tights, accessories and underwear and liberated young women from the conservative clothes their mothers wore. Her youthful designs had a democratic appeal and were equally popular with the swinging art school crowd and young women on their way to work, ‘Once only the rich, the establishment set the fashion,’ Quant said at the time, ‘Now it is the inexpensive dress seen on the girl in the high street.’
Quant grew up in South East London and trained as an art teacher at Goldsmith’s College – not far from where I’m sitting today. Opening the boutique Bazaar on the King’s Road in 1955, she initially sold other labels but frustrated by their frumpiness soon created her own collection. Quant was a prolific designer, who built an innovative fashion empire with her husband and business partner Alexander Plunkett-Greene (the pair met at Goldsmith’s); she certainly understood the power of the brand, successfully launching makeup, paper patterns and more, all emblazoned with the iconic daisy logo. For the designer’s full story, a hardback version of the autobiography Quant by Quant has been published by V&A Fashion Perspectives.
At the V&A exhibition, I was delighted to see Mary Quant’s Daisy the ‘best dressed doll in the world’ on display. As a child growing up in 1970s Blackpool, I loved my Daisy – she had the best hair and the grooviest outfits – I only wish I’d hung onto her….
If you can’t get into the Dior exhibition, head straight down the hall. The V&A has the largest collection of Mary Quant in the world and it is a joyful reason to visit the museum.
Mary Quant at the V&A is on until Sunday 16 February 2020.