A ‘Mod’ called Mary Quant
Born on 11th February 1934, Mary grew up in Blackheath, London, later going on to study illustration at college before focusing heavily on fashion after working for a couture milliner. The beginning of her career in fashion began when she opened up her first boutique, ‘Bazaar’, in King’s Road, Chelsea, with her husband Alexander Plunkett-Greene, selling modern, bright coloured clothing and accessories at affordable prices. Initially she sold what the manufacturers offered her, however with time she grew tired and bored of these designs and thus hired her own seamstress to begin designing her own pieces.
Quant’s first line was not a success, yet the shop continued to grow in popularity, starting the trendiness of King’s Road, which still remains today. However in 1963, Quant became bigger than ever; American store J.C offered her the chance to design their newest range as an attempt to reinvent their image. This chance proved to be a success, and Quant became a huge fashion figure as a result of it. Her fame grew in England and America; more and more people were adorning her renowned ‘micro-minis and plastic raincoats’. ‘Bazaar’ was becoming a regular choice for major music stars such as the Beatles, who were known to purchase Quant designs for their girlfriends. George Harrison even chose Quant to design his and his wife-to-be’s clothing for their big day.
At the time, young women, regardless of class, were becoming more and more independent, often with good jobs, and thus an income that they were able to spend on clothing so that could ‘dress to please themselves’; a motto which Mary Quant heavily promoted. The reason behind her clothing was to make people of all ages feel youthful and show off a look of vitality, unlike the clothes that were coming out of the couture houses in major fashion cities at the time.
For the rest of the decade, Mary Quant remained as popular as ever; people were following the trend and adorning her statement pieces such as hotpants, slip dresses, PVC raincoats, smoky eyes and that forever famous bob haircut. She was known for varying the proportions of her clothing items, making men’s shirts longer in length and slimmed down, and creating the same piece for women, to wear only with her coloured, patterned tights. The lengths of skirts had been rising before Quant had come onto the fashion scene and so it is said that she appeared at just the right time; her hotpants and ‘mini-skirts’ were an instant success, and it was now acceptable for women to show a lot of leg. Models such as Twiggy were wearing her designs, and in the newly modern decade where icons were no longer glamorous actors on the big screen but popstars, models and sports personalties, this had a profound effect on the success of Quant’s company.
Although Quant was the predominant figure who made the mini-skirt fly off the shelves, it is not known who originally designed the item. However, she decided to name this short skirt, the ‘mini-skirt’ or ‘micro-mini’ after her favourite car – you guessed it, the Mini.
Expanding her range in the 1970s not just with fashion, but with kitchenware, stationary, home furnishings, wine and her revolutionary make-up, Mary Quant soon became a household name across the globe. Her cosmetics range was said to be her true money-maker, opening over 200 stores in Japan amongst many others across the world. ‘Mary Quant Cosmetics Ltd’ was known for its unique nail varnish and lipsticks, as well as products to re-create her trademark ‘smoky eyes’ look, and created £95million a year in revenue.
She resigned in 2000, yet her name continues to be thought of in awe. Her career won her an OBE for outstanding contribution to fashion, as well as an award in the Hall of Fame at the British Fashion Council.
Mary Quant had, by far, the biggest influence on fashion and pop culture in the 60s in Britain, designing and shaping the ultimate look of this decade. She was responsible for making patterned tights, her simple trademark daisy motif, hotpants and the mini-skirt (amongst many other pieces) mainstream, and created a revolution in fashion not seen since the ‘flappers’ of the 1920s. The ‘mod’ look that she helped to create derived from ‘Swinging London’ in the 1960s, and still exists today. It seems that the iconic looks that she created are still yet to go out of style.
Written by Heather Barras