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Jun 11, 2017

Reimagine Fashion: The Unquantifiable Mary Quant

“Good taste is death, vulgarity is life.”

(Reimagine Fashion: a series about TechStyle heroes who challenged the status quo)

Self-taught designer Mary Quant has been described as the ‘High Priestess of Sixties Fashion.’ Quant and her daisy logo changed women’s lives forever, introducing the mini skirt, hot pants, skinny rib sweaters and even waterproof mascara to the newly-liberated, Sixties woman. Friend and hair stylist Vidal Sassoon even created and popularized the five point bob just for Mary Quant.

Quant was born in London to Welsh schoolteacher parents who put their foot down when she wanted to attend fashion school, thinking it too risky a pursuit. As a compromise Quant attended Goldsmith College, where she studied illustration and met future husband and business partner, aristocrat Alexander Plunket Greene, in 1953.

The couple and their photographer friend, Archie McNair, proved to be an unstoppable threesome when in 1955, they opened Quant’s first store, Bazaar, above their newly opened, highly successful restaurant, Alexander’s, in London’s Kings Row. Bazaar was known for its inventive window displays, fabulous clothes, and its trademark daisy motif, as well as for its famous customers. Bazaar was the place to shop for head to toe, cutting-edge fashion, offering clothes, footwear, make-up, jewelry and accessories, all under one very relaxed, atmospheric roof. Quant’s boutique played loud music and gave away free drinks, unlike any clothing store of its time. She broke new ground.

“Quant was the most exciting designer for our generation a huge change from the old school of couture, she designed for the young, short skirts, geometric designs for the 60’s generation full of energy and freedom from the past.” – Model and it girl Pattie Boyd

Unimpressed with current fashions, Quant created her own designs to sell. Her aesthetic was influenced by what was going on around her, the pulsing intensity that was post-war London. It was the hub of creativity; musicians, designers and artists alike were pushing all the boundaries.

Quant’s clothes matched her joie de vive. She reveled in bright colors. Her clothes were always simple, striking and modern. Short tunic dresses were paired with brightly colored tights that she had made by theatrical costume houses (women had previously worn stockings with garter belts). Her garments were neatly cut and aimed at the young, Chelsea “it”crowd.

Mary Quant’s collection was produced entirely in England. She began with small runs of designs, only about three hundred pieces per style. Quant used society girls and iconic models of the time, like Twiggy, Pattie Boyd and Jean Shrimpton, to model at her fashion shows, helping her clothes gain notoriety.

Always experimenting with fabrics and materials, Quant frequently used cotton gabardine, and often finished a dress or shirt with a PVC, white, detachable collar. Quant’s skirts, dresses, A-line coats, clingy jersey dresses and sleeveless tunics all had one thing in common, they were easy to put on and take off. She believed that fashion should be created for ‘real-life people,’ not just for a small minority. Everything Quant made had to be practical enough for her customer to wear, even if she had to run and catch a bus!

It was Mary Quant who said: “Fashion is about life -it’s the way we move, sit, the way we talk – it’s about everything – and it’s always changing.”

And: “The whole point of fashion is to make fashionable clothes available to everyone.”

By the Seventies and Eighties, Quant was focusing on household goods and makeup, and her niche nail varnish, makeup products and lipsticks became licensed to be sold around the world. In 1966 she was given an OBE from the Queen of England for her outstanding contribution to the fashion industry, which she accepted in a minidress. Quant was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2015 New Year Honors, for services to British fashion.

by Amelia Fleetwood features writer and former West Coast Associate Editor for Vogue.

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