Mary Quant. A designer that many of today’s younger generation may not know the name of, but had, and continues to have, the influence and the impact in not only the world of fashion but the feminist movement, that no other has been able to replicate. In fact, I would go as far to say that even you, my dear friend, have items in your wardrobe that were largely influenced by her!
I myself am one of those mentioned above that did not know all too much, if anything, about Mary. So when I stumbled across an excited gathering of women trying to make their way into the exhibition at London’s V&A Museum, I knew that I just had to see what all of the fuss was about.
While standing in line it became very clear to me that this was an exhibition that wouldn’t just be something to admire, but something to fully immerse myself in. A glimpse into the stories and lives of the ladies surrounding me. Most of which were accompanied by their mothers and their grandmothers, reliving and reminiscing on the glory days of when, as the lady in front of me was telling her daughter, they would save up all that they could to buy the Daisy Doll and Quant’s iconic coloured tights.
Spread across two floors, I was immediately sucked in. The first floor was set out like a high street, with Quant’s creations in windowed displays, and a short black and white film being projected onto a wall. A glimpse into the soaring 60s. This level was very much a contrast to the one above – focusing on waist coats, the use of traditional tailoring and Quant’s witty and ironic names for her pieces. Seriously, they had no chill (& I am here for it).
A favourite of mine on this level – The Bank of England Dress. Just read the label and you will see why.
Walking upstairs, I could have easily mistaken it as a shop on the high street today – Topshop, perhaps. The colours bright and bold, the styles short and sweet, and the mannequins and advertising just as fun and exuberant as you can image. Not to mention, Quant’s iconic logo, the black Daisy, proudly on display against the wall.
My favourite on this level – Footage of Quant speaking candidly about her clothing and her ethos “I wanted to design clothes for young people…. Fashion is for now, and if you’re still enjoying living, and you’re still enjoying being a woman and being sexy, and being liked, one wants surely, to wear the clothes of today. It’s nothing to do with age or anything else.”
Quant is famously known as the one who revolutionised mini-skirts, brought forth short hemlines and very much guided post-war and modern women’s fashion to what it is today. Her innovative powerhouse designs aren’t just exclusive to mini-skirts but also to peter pan collars (a la 2013, yes?), short hemlines, A-lines (practically my entire wardrobe), pinafores, and creating smart and practical trousers for women to wear in public – something that were considered inappropriate for women at the time and were even banned mostly from being worn in formal settings.
Frankly, this exhibition could not have come at a more apt time. With women’s rights becoming a conversation that is being discussed louder than ever and multiple campaigns such as the HeforShe and the #MeToo movements making mammoth waves, this exhibition is the perfect side dish. As women, we are expected to dress a certain way, to look a certain way, and to hold ourselves in a certain way. Quant used her fashion to challenge this and communicate new ideas and attitudes.Her clothes empowered women post-war and made them feel confident and sexy. She rebuked the notion that cutting edge fashion was reserved only for the elite and wealthy with Quant at the time famously saying ‘Once only the rich, the establishment set the fashion – Now it is the inexpensive dress seen on the girl in the high street.’
Walking into this exhibition I was curious. Walking out I was confident. That, my friend, is the power of Mary.
The Mary Quant Exhibition will be on display until February 16th 2020.
Tickets £12 / V&A members free.