The whole point of fashion is to make fashionable clothes available to everyone.
Fashion is a tool to compete in life outside the home.
Introduction – Quant and ‘the Chelsea Set’
Barbara Mary Quant was born 11 February 1930 in Blackheath, London, and grew up there along with her younger brother Tony. Her parents were both Welsh and had distinguished careers as teachers, however they refused to let her study fashion, so Quant graduated from an illustration course at Goldsmiths. There she met aristocrat Alexander Plunket Greene, whom she married in 1957. Mary obtained a diploma in art education, and began an apprenticeship at a high-end milliner, Erik of Brook Street.
In 1955, Plunket Greene purchased Markham House on the King's Road in Chelsea, London, an area frequented by the 'Chelsea Set' comprising artists, film directors and socialites. Quant, Plunket Greene and their friend, Archie McNair, opened a basement restaurant Alexander's. McNair already owned a fashionable coffee shop called, somewhat exotically, The Fantasie.
They also opened a boutique Bazaar on the ground floor. Quant concentrated on design and fashion, Plunket Greene had entrepreneurial and marketing skills, and lawyer McNair, who was also a keen photographer, brought legal and business sense to the brand. In 1957 they opened the second Bazaar designed by Terence Conran, right opposite Harrods. Self-taught and taking cutting and other evening classes Mary moved to make her own designs, affordable for everyday working women and in new styles and fabrics. Although she became famous for the Mini Skirt, Hotpants and simple clean lines, few people are aware how influenced Quant was by sport in her designs.
Quant and Sportswear
One of the ways that Quant was influenced by sportswear was her research into Victorian clothing, and the way that she incorporated nineteenth century references into contemporary fashion. In 1961, for instance, she launched a knickerbocker set, modelled by Melanie Hampshire, that referenced women’s nineteenth century bathing-wear. This was somewhat frivolous and fun compared with the matching separates that defined Quant’s style, to be worn for work, or recreation, and so marks an obvious point of departure into leisurewear. The Norfolk jacket, a Victorian sportsjacket, also influenced her structured and boxy style of suit.
This developed across the brand, with its distinctive dairy symbol, as Quant went on to design underwear, outerwear, shoes and accessories, homewear and even toys and clothing for toys. One of the really clever elements of the brand, as it moved into global markets in the 1960s, was the the consumer could buy the whole Quant look for personal wear and the home. Extending into the US and then globally, it was estimated that seven million women had at least one of her products in their wardrobe by 1970, and thousands wore her 'Daisy'-badged cosmetics range, or the cheaper diffusion brand The Ginger Group.
1966 The OBE Dress
When Quant was awarded an OBE on 15 November 1966, the year that England won the world cup on home soil, she chose to design her own dress to wear to the Palace, and in a way that played with protocol, she chose a dress made out of cream wool jersey fabric, a textile popularized by sport. The dress lacked the formal structure of haute couture and was deliberately youthful in its style, with a miniskirt length. The dress made a feature out of functional modernistic details, like trademark circular zip-pulls, and contrast stitching. Topped with a bonded jersey beret and court shoes, this simple outfit became a signature style. Cleverly, even if young women could not afford the Quant head-to-toe look, or could not meet the expense of visiting London, they could buy Buttericks patterns and try to make their own clothes in the Quant style at home.
The Football Dress
Said to be influenced less by the shock of the new and more by the shock of the knee, Quant specifically referenced the popularity of England’s 1966 victory and football more generally with The Football Dress. Worn with characteristic matching tights, this red jersey dress with cream trimming was perhaps to be worn after the match, rather than on the terraces while supporting. Modelled as an androgynous style, with a pixie style haircut, this was one of many Quant designs to incorporate stripes, contrasts and features taken from sportswear. For instance the neck trim, with three contrasting buttons looked like some football shirts of the era. The comfortable silhouette encouraged freedom of movement. This extended to tracksuits to be worn for leisure, and not intended for sport at all.
The whole point of Quant’s designs were that they encouraged young women not to dress like their mothers, but to express themselves. Although the colours and cut can look a little dated today, this is a very contemporary message. There were formal wear garments and more experimental pieces but the mix and match separates dominated the exhibition. This is not on such a grand scale as the Dior exhibition reviewed earlier, but perhaps that is appropriate as the topic is how Quant changed every day dressing for young people. In 1990 she was awarded the prestigious Hall of Fame Award by the British Fashion Council. Awarded a DBE in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to British fashion, Dame Mary Quant has also been immortalized by, amongst others, artist Sir Peter Blake, to appear in a new version of his most famous artwork, the Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, to celebrate British cultural figures. Well worth a trip, the exhibition has particularly features about modernity, youth, empowerment and how fashion labels became larger international brands.
Posts written by Jean or Joanna.