Mary Quant gave rise to the “swinging London” cultural movement, where she popularised the miniskirt. She had an incredible influence on the modern woman’s position in society and empowered them with fashion and makeup, her advice being, ‘you can express who you want to be, and shine brighter than ever before.’
To empower the modern woman with fashion and makeup.
“Express who you want to be and shine brighter than ever before. Be free.”
Mary Quant studied illustration at Goldsmiths and graduated in 1953 with a diploma in art education, following which she interned with high-end milliner Erik. In 1955, her late husband Alexander Plunket Greene purchased Markham House on King’s Road in Chelsea, London, a neighbourhood frequented by the ‘Chelsea Set’. Quant, Plunket Greene and a friend, lawyer-turned-photographer Archie McNair, opened a restaurant in the basement and a boutique named Bazaar on the mezzanine. Subsequently, loud music, free cocktails, creative window displays and extended opening hours created a ‘scene’ that often winded up at midnight. It was the place to shop and hang out in London. By the early Sixties, the collections were a rage with the celebrity set and were featured in Harper’s Bazaar.
Despite the runaway access of the fashion brand, Quant was a self-taught designer, attending evening classes on cutting and used printed patterns to achieve the looks she envisioned. Shortly, she initiated a unique production cycle wherein the day’s sales at Bazaar paid for the fabrics that was transformed overnight into new apparel for the following day. This retail strategy ensured Bazaar always had fresh, unique looks. Mary’s design was free from the constraints of old rules. Her mini and other irreverent looks were critical to the development of the ‘Swinging Sixties’. Per Vogue, Quant said: “It was the girls on the King’s Road [during the “Swinging London” scene] who invented the mini. I was making easy, youthful, simple clothes, in which you could move, in which you could run and jump and we would make them the length the customer wanted. I wore them very short and the customers would say, ‘Shorter, shorter.'” It popularised by the era’s supermodel, Twiggy, who helped transform super-short hemlines into an International rage.
“City gents in bowler hats beat on our shop window with their umbrellas shouting ‘immoral!’ and ‘disgusting!’ at the sight of our mini-skirts over the tights, but customers poured in to buy,” she recalled in her book, Quant by Quant.
Other examples of Quant’s irreverent designs are her line of men’s cardigans long enough to wear as dresses and white plastic collars used to brighten up sweaters and dresses. By 1957, demand for Quant’s collections led to the opening of a second store on King’s Road. In the late Sixties, Quant designed the ‘skinny rib’ sweater and short shorts that were the forerunner of hot-pants! She was the first designer to use PVC, creating ‘wet look’ styles and weatherproof boots. Her relaxed practical everyday wear too became a rage as she paired short tunic dresses with bright coloured tights. In the late Sixties, Quant designed short shorts that were the forerunner of hot pants.
In 1962, she signed a deal with American department-store chain JC Penney. The following year, Mary Quant Limited expanded into the UK mass market with a new, affordable diffusion line, Ginger Group. The following year, she opened her third shop in London’s New Bond Street. In 1966, Mary recognised the need gap for a new style of makeup to go with the new bolder fashion. This development made waves throughout the world, particularly in Japan. Mary made the first of many visits to Japan in 1972, which lead to Japanese influences appearing in her designs. In 1988, she designed the interiors of the Mini. The seats were designed with black and white stripes offset with red trimming and seat-belts; the steering-wheel had the designers’ signature daisy and the bonnet badge had “Mary Quant” written on it.
“Over and again I was told I was responsible for the offbeat clothes that became known as the Chelsea Look . . . people either loved them or hated them. But, in fact, no one designer is ever responsible for such a revolution. All a designer can do is to anticipate a mood before people realize they’re bored with what they’ve already got.” An excerpt from her book.
Through the Seventies and Eighties she concentrated on household goods and make-up rather than just her clothing lines, including the duvet. In 2000, she resigned as director of Mary Quant Ltd after a buy-out by her Japanese licensees but has gone down in history as the pioneer of a rebellious fashion movement. Per In Vogue: Twentieth Century Fashion: “Quant had a cataclysmic effect on London, with her simple daisy motif, short skirts, mix of music and model, Twiggy.” So it’s no wonder she was honoured with prolific awards throughout her illustrious career. In 1966, Mary Quant was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her outstanding contribution to the fashion industry. In 1990, she won Hall of Fame Award of the British Fashion Council and was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to British fashion. Quant is a Fellow of the Chartered Society of Designers and winner of their Minerva Medal.
TRIVIA: The daisy that has become our brand’s icon was born from the doodles of a young Mary Quant. She would draw the daisy whilst making her sketches in order to let her ideas flow. Compared to any other motif, this simple design perfectly fit her. Something that could not be created by science, something truly unique in the world. From then on, it not only became an emblem of the freedom that Mary promulgated, along with her desire to break societal norms and show individuality, but also the emblem of our brand.
Founder Mary Quant
Fashion and make-up
In 1963 Quant was the first winner of the Dress of the Year award, an annual fashion award run by the Fashion Museum, Bath. In 1966, Mary Quant was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her outstanding contribution to the fashion industry. In 1990, she won Hall of Fame Award of the British Fashion Council and was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to British fashion. She was appointed a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to British fashion. Quant is also a Fellow of the Chartered Society of Designers and winner of their Minerva Medal.