“Self-expression, female ingenuity, empowerment and women’s liberation, the themes of Mary Quant’s designs are as relevant and important today as they were then,” explains Steph Wood, co-curator of the V&A’s major new Mary Quant exhibition. This spring, London’s pre-eminent fashion and design museum pays tribute to Mary Quant’s trail-blazing talent with the first international retrospective show dedicated entirely to the iconic 1960s British designer.
The exhibition features over 120 items of clothing alongside pieces from Quant’s cosmetics line, sketches and photographs. Drawing on Dame Mary Quant’s personal archive, as well as coveted items loaned by members of the public, the exhibition makes it clear that the designer was a source of inspiration to many women in the 1960s. “Quant was a powerful role model for working women at a time when more and more women were able to have careers. Her vision and steely determination enabled her to succeed in a male dominated environment and her designs and career inspired and liberated women from convention and stifling rules and regulations,” explains Wood.
From colour-popping clothes to makeup, Mary Quant’s impact on British fashion cannot be overestimated. “Quant popularised many of the things we take for granted today such as miniskirts, tights and waterproof mascara,” says Wood. “She was also among the first to promote trousers and suits for fashionable womenswear at a time when many women in the UK were banned from wearing trousers in formal settings like restaurants. This appropriation of menswear remains one of her greatest contributions to fashion. Furthermore, her youthful and unconventional clothes overturned the dominance of Parisian couture and made British streetstyle the global influence it remains today. She helped put London on the map as a creative and progressive fashion capital.”
The designer opened her first boutique in 1955 on the King’s Road, not far from the museum. Her distinctive designs, which incorporated elements from masculine tailoring, were quick to draw attention. A pioneer of technologically advanced fabrics and fashion marketing, the exhibition aims to replicate the creative energy that Quant was known for in her heyday. Inside the exhibition, visitors can admire a collection of rare and unseen pieces as well as highlights including Mary’s personal favourite dress, Banana Spilt—a chic zipped black jersey dress—and a selection of incredible platform shoes.
Quant’s vibrancy and pioneering attitude were a breath of fresh air in post-war Britain and her approach is still very much on point for women today, as Wood explains: “One of her great strengths was to see fashion as a force for feminism – a means of communicating new attitudes, ideas and change for women.”