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Mary Quant retrospective opens at V&A

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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The V&A museum in London opens the first international retrospective on the iconic British fashion designer Dame Mary Quant on April 6, with an exhibition bringing together more than 120 garments, accessories, sketches, photographs and Daisy dolls, including 35 objects received from the public from its national #WeWantQuant call-out.

The ‘Mary Quant’ exhibition explores the years between 1955 and 1975, the British designer’s heyday, where she introduced miniskirts, hot pants, brightly-coloured shift dresses, and vibrant tights, as she revolutionised the British high street, harnessing the youthful spirit of the sixties and new mass production techniques to create a new look for women.

Quant was much more than just being queen of the miniskirt, she was at the centre of a revolution that signalled youthful expression, and challenged gender rules, with her affordable and fun fashion for working women, often using tailoring cloth intended for men’s suits, to offer a stark change from the drabness of post-war London.

The exhibition is as much about the social and historical context of the time, with her shop opening up just a year after rationing ending, as it is about her playful and colourful designs, and the curators have placed the personal stories of the women who wore her designs at the heart of the exhibit.

This was helped by the V&A receiving more than 1,000 responses to its #WeWantQuant call-out last June asking for the British public to lend or donate any rare Quant garments that were hidden in their wardrobes. From the response, 35 objects from 30 individuals were selected and the personal stories from the owners, as well as 50 photographs of the women wearing their beloved Quant clothes “transformed the narrative of the exhibition,” added the museum.

Rare Quant items received includes a very early and unlabelled blouse, a hat sold at Bazaar, Quant’s experimental boutique on the King’s Road, and colourful PVC raincoats, which are shown alongside other pieces from the designer’s “Wet Collection” that launched in 1963 that brought PVC, a relative new material at the time, to the high street, and highlights her continuing influence as the raincoats wouldn’t look out of place in the likes of Topshop and H&M.

V&A explores Mary Quant’s fashion revolution with first international retrospective

Jenny Lister, co-curator of Mary Quant at the V&A said in a statement: “Mary Quant transformed the fashion system, overturning the dominance of luxury couture from Paris. She dressed the liberated woman, freed from rules and regulations, and from dressing like their mothers.

“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 street style the global influence it remains today.”

The first part of the exhibition downstairs in the museum’s dual-levelled fashion gallery sets the scene of post-war London with video footage showing the opening of Quant’s shop, Bazaar on Chelsea’s King’s Road, alongside how her designs often based on schoolgirl pinafores or masculine tailoring, brought an entertaining slant to fashion, allowed women to have fun, and inspiring young women to rebel against traditional dress worn by their mothers and grandmothers, this was Quant giving the youthful and hopefully post-war generation a new lease of life.

As you move around the downstairs of the exhibition, you are taken through how Quant helped to pioneer mass-market clothes, making fashion less exclusive and more accessible to a new generation, not just for the British scene but also in the US, as in 1963 she launched the Ginger Group, an accessible diffusion line that was soon stocked by US department store JC Penney.

In the central fashion gallery upstairs the exhibition space has been laid out to represent the five petals of Quant’s iconic daisy logo, and gives a taste at just how global her brand became, from small boutique to international label. It shows how she marketed her name and daisy logo across numerous categories spanning away from just fashion to also include homewares, make-up, tights, underwear, at-home fashion patterns, and even toys, with her very own Daisy dolls, which were build as “the best dressed doll in the world”.

Mary Quant at the V&A runs from April 6 to February 16, 2020.

Images: courtesy of V&A

Mary Quant
Victoria and Albert