Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Focus on: Mary Quant

"It is given to a fortunate few to be born at the right time, in the right place, with the right talents. In recent fashion there are three: Chanel, Dior and Mary Quant"
Ernestine Carter - Sunday Times

My relationship with Mary Quant and her work has always been difficult, but I would like to start this by saying how much I admire and respect her. However I struggled through my first dissertation trying to marry the passion I had for the fashion movement in London in the 1960s and the importance it had to literature at the time, with the cliched woman I met, albeit briefly, on a cold winters evening in 2007.
Mary Quant was a relic from a bygone age telling cliche stories that, though not all true, she had told so many times before that she made them true to herself. She was a woman convinced that Vidall Sasoon had "made her" with his clever scissors and five point hair cut, and who answered my question about why she chose to bring london the mini skirt with the reply: "because I had nice legs." Nothing to do with empowerment, as I had read in a thousand text books, then.

The miniskirt, by the way, was in fact not invented by Mary Quant. Although she popularized it by selling it in her Bazaar boutique, the French designer André Courrèges actually invented it! We can't hold that against her though; although we can blame her for bringing the world hotpants.
As I started this piece by saying, I will always admire and respect Mary Quant for her innovation and for the youth fashion that she created and gave to the world: There wouldn't be such a thing as teen fashion without her, bearing in mind that before Quant girls wore miniture versions of what their mothers chose from the powerhouses such as Chanel and Dior. Quant began as an amateur, simply making clothes that she wanted to wear that you couldn't find anywhere else. Quant's popularity was at its height in the mid 1960s, during which time she produced the dangerously short micro-mini skirt, and plastic raincoats. In 1970 Bernard Levin called her the "High Priestess of Sixties fashion".

But what Quant became after her success undermines (for me at least) the independent spirit of the liberating clothing enterprise she and her husband (Alexander Plunkett-Green, agruably the brains behind the outfit) began. Quant was overwhelmed by the interest she received from American conglomerates towards the end of the 60s and bowed to their every demand. Mary Quant dolls, called daisy of course, jostling for a place next to her home range (in the same 2007 lecture at the V&A she claimed to have invented the duvet) and make up. In fact, the poster for her cry baby mascara is one of my enduring memories of my dissertation; when advertising was stepping away from the literal, this was a big deal. By the 70s Mary Quant was a joke: a leftover from an era that didn't mean anything to anyone anymore. Mary Quant make up is all that's left of her empire now. Although I have Mary Quant stockings (still in the packet from a charity shop) and a floppy hat I picked up at a vintage fair, I would love to try her make up range.

I'm going to finish with one of my favourite stories about Mary Quant. The reason Quant used so much pinstripe in her early designs was her desire to reclaim it from what she called the "suits" who worked around her store. She wanted to invert its meaning by making it feminine and sexy; in certain books you can see pictures of men looking aghast at mannequins in her shop window wearing tiny pinstripe mini dresses and bowler hats. This sums up to me everything that Quant was to London Fashion. Oh, and the Indian man from whom Quant found all these fabrics? Mr Curry of course! Only in London in the 1960s!

NB - Any facts and dates are facts, researched a couple of years ago, but all the opinions are mine, not to be confused with reality!
Because of my undying passion for the 60s I thought it would be nice to do profiles on some of my favourite (or the most important) designers and authors from the era; a very pleasant way to spend a Monday evening! I hope you enjoyed the diversion!

Love, Tor xx


Elise said...

you have such a beautiful blog. I hope this comment reaches you - I just had to say hello ! Best wishes & thank you for sharing...

Kb said...

Great post...I find a lot of her tights and bodysuits on ebay, they're amazing!