Inside the V&A’s Mary Quant Exhibition

Mary Quant

She was the woman who revolutionised the mini skirt and inspired a new age of feminism. Absolutely takes a look at the V&A’s Mary Quant exhibition.

Words Pendle Harte

What to expect from the Mary Quant exhibition

During the years between 1955 and 1975, Mary Quant revolutionised the high street, harnessing the youthful spirit of the sixties and new mass production techniques to create a new look for women.

Mary Quant Selecting Fabric

Quant personified the energy and fun of swinging London and was a powerful role model for the working woman. Challenging conventions, she popularised the miniskirt, colourful tights, and tailored trousers, encouraging a new age of feminism. The mini skirt would go on to become an icon of the time and spark a new creative scene in London and beyond.

Receiving unprecedented access to Dame Mary Quant’s Archive, as well as drawing on the V&A’s extensive fashion holdings, which include the largest public collection of Quant garments in the world, the show brings together more than 120 garments, accessories, cosmetics, sketches and photographs, the majority of which have never been on display before.

In June 2018, the museum launched a call-out to the public to track down rare Quant garments from wardrobes around the country, and received more than 800 responses. From these, curators selected 35 objects from 30 individuals alongside personal stories and photographs of the women wearing their beloved Quant clothes. These objects and stories transformed the exhibition narrative, including a very early and unlabelled blouse, a hat sold at Bazaar and colourful PVC raincoats.

The Mary Quant Beauty Bus

Quant’s designs, often based on schoolgirl pinafores or masculine tailoring, brought an entertaining slant to fashion, soon noticed by fashion editors and newspaper journalists in the burgeoning media of the day. Inspiring young women to rebel against traditional dress worn by their mothers and grandmothers, Quant’s tiny boutique on the King’s Road grew into a wholesale brand available in department stores across the UK. Her success soon hit America, where her designs were made for chain stores and mail-order companies. Quant quickly became the woman that made fashion less exclusive and more accessible to a new generation.

Ahead of her time in marketing and promotion, Quant was the embodiment of the label. Her distinctive, photogenic style, playful energy and revolutionary approach made her the ultimate ambassador for the brand. The exhibition looks at her collaborations with manufacturers, diversifying into underwear, hosiery and cosmetics, all made to her designs, and packaged with her distinctive daisy logo.

Jenny Lister, co-curator, said: “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 will show 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.”

Mary Quant

Dame Mary Quant said: “We didn’t necessarily realise 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.”

From small boutique to international label, Quant revolutionised British fashion with energy, flair and rebellion. This exhibition provides an unrivalled insight into the career of one of Britain’s most revolutionary and important fashion designers.

Mary Quant at the V&A is on now until 16 February 2020. For more information visit vam.ac.uk

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