On Tamara’s recommendation we went to the Mary Quant exhibition at the V&A in London. Your intrepid reporter reports…
Because of Mary Quant and her Bazaar shop in the King’s Road, Chelsea ceased to be a small part of London; it became international. Its name said there was a new way of living and a new way of dressing. It was a break: It wasn’t what your mum wore, any more.
In 1960, Quant and her partner flew to New York, just two years after the first commercial transatlantic flight. British newspapers publicised Quant’s exciting venture, epitomised in a terrific photograph of Quant and her partner Plunket Greene. They are hand in hand but separated; each is a complete person – woman as well as man. With them on a lead is a very English sheepdog, and they are all running down Fifth Avenue in New York, running towards us into a bright, free, go-getting future.
American journalists pushed her ‘kooky’ look, which increased her celebrity status. Quant pitched her clothes and ideas to US buyers in upmarket department stores. She met fashion editors and she got down to business – touring the garment district, she was at home in that world, impressed and eager to make the most of the scale, pace and organisation of American ready-to-wear. Her ground-breaking designs were displayed in New York store windows.
Manufacturers spotted Quant’s unique ‘Chelsea’ style and its appeal to the youth market and youth culture, and recruited her for their designer collections. Quant learned about efficiency, scaling, pricing and sizing from American manufacturers, and in exchange she gave them British ‘cool’ that American consumers adored. By 1965, she was regularly commuting between New York and London. She was international.
Mary Quant’s designs are sexy, but only when they are worn. On their own they are boyish, echoes of schoolgirl uniforms, designed for a small bust, a small frame. The colours say freedom and ownership, owned by those who wore them.
The exhibition is on at the V&A in London until the 16th Feb, 2020. It’s on two floors, with videos of Mary Quant talking about how she started, what she did and why she did it. And of course, there are the clothes.