How 1960s mini-skirt designer Mary Quant changed the fashion world forever
SHE sparked a sexy style revolution in the Swinging Sixties by reducing hems and became one of the most influential fashion figures in history.
Designer Mary Quant’s light and light clothes sent shockwaves across the country, and her Vidal Sassoon cut was the “It” haircut – copied by millions to this day.
Famous for her miniskirts, warm pants and brightly colored tights, Mary’s design motto was, “Be yourself, set yourself free.”
And she raised her eyebrows at every turn – even openly talking about dyeing her pubic hair green and cutting it into a heart shape in still prudish times in the UK.
Now the new movie Quant, directed by actress Sadie Frost, is about how the risk-taking boss and style icon came to fame – ruffling a few feathers along the way.
“English fashion has always been notoriously rebellious,” model Kate Moss says in the documentary.
And Mary, now 91, led the way.
The film brings together original interviews with the designer’s closest friends, archival footage and dramatic scenes to tell her fascinating life story.
His design formula for women was simple. In archival footage, Mary says, âI think the point in fashion for women should be: One, get you noticed. Two, how sexy you are. And three, may you feel good. I do not see that we are wearing clothes to be warm.
For British fashion designers, including Mary’s godson Jasper Conran, its impact has been enormous.
“She empowers women”
Hailing Mary “one of the most important British designers of all time,” Jasper, 61, says she has set women free.
He says: âMary’s vision was to bring clothes to young working girls, the first girls to have jobs and careers in Britain.
Sixties model Twiggy, now 72, says: âHer clothes were very short and very subtle. The shoes were flat so you could run and dance in them.
âActually, all the clothes were very simple, but put together they created a very strong look that somehow said, ‘Look at me, isn’t life wonderful? “
Makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury, 48, says: âShe was an innovator, a rule breaker, she empowers women.
“This amazing woman with a sense of freedom and disruption really created an overall look.”
But Mary’s path to success has not been easy. The film opens with her statement, âCoco Chanel hated me – I can see why. “
Daughter of Welsh professors Jack and Mildred Quant, Mary, born in London, studied illustration at Goldsmiths College in London, then became an apprentice milliner in Mayfair.
She turned to fashion design and in 1955 opened her first store, Bazaar, on Kings Road in London.
Rebelling against bleak 1950s styles, she sold “clothes that had nothing to do with our mothers.”
Hordes lined up outside and within ten days her original merchandise was sold out.
Mary says, âI hated fashion and how it was. I wanted clothes that were much more casual and easygoing while still being sexy. We don’t want to look like a duchess.
âI wanted to design clothes for real people. I wanted to create for young people.
But not everyone agreed. In older stills, the film shows her remembering the men who opposed her daring creations.
She said, âSome old gentlemen come into the bazaar and shake their umbrellas and shout, ‘Obscene, disgusting, degenerate!’
“But they can’t explain why it was obscene, disgusting or degenerate.”
I hated fashion. I wanted the clothes to be
casual and sexy not like a duchess
In a grainy clip from the early 1960s, Mary is interviewed by a male interviewer.
He said, “Mary, isn’t a miniskirt pretty obvious – just flirty?” After all, it seems that few girls really have the legs, the hips and most of all the panache to wear it majestically. She retorts: “But who wants to be majestic?
What followed was the explosion of the British music scene of the 1960s, the marches for women’s equality, the dawn of the birth control pill and a decade of free love.
The film reveals that Mary took five years younger to look younger and stay connected. But for Kate Moss, the ’60s were all about models – especially Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton.
She said, âThey had a lot of personality and it was contagious and people wanted to feel that energy.
âI have been compared to Twiggy, who I met when I was younger. She’s adorable and kind of took me under her wing. And Jean Shrimpton gave me advice on men, I don’t know what!
British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful, who also stars in the film, believes it all comes down to Mary.
He says: âThere was a certain Britishness the world needed back then and America was so obsessed with the British invasion. If the Beatles provided the soundtrack, Mary certainly provided all of the visual images.
“She was at the center, giving the world something so British.”
Speaking of the ’60s, flamboyant fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, now 81, agrees: âIt caught people’s imaginations and drawn people to this country and it really started with Mary and put this country on the map. “
The debate over who first invented the miniskirt is still raging among the whole of fashion (French credit AndrÃ© CourrÃ¨ges).
But it was undoubtedly Mary who marketed the mini and brought it to the masses.
She was also ahead of her time with diversity in fashion, according to Enninful.
He adds, âIt was a time when black models weren’t exactly used in magazines or shows. You would see a hand or feet.
Mary literally put these models out there. She came up with a new idea of ââbeauty.
Decades before the Beckhams and Kardashians built their brand empires, Mary gained worldwide fame by putting clothing, makeup, underwear, and perfume to her name.
When not traveling the world, she divided her time between central London and a heap of countryside in Surrey, where she still lives today.
Commenting on the pressure on Mary to deliver, Jasper Conran says, âEveryone is counting on you for the next big thing, everyone is relying on you to maintain the machine that was built on your back.
âIt’s just too difficult to maintain day in and day out. Twiggy only worked as a model for four years, the Beatles disbanded in 1970. Mary had to continue.
In the early ’70s, when her bold and fun designs were overshadowed by the power of flowers and punk, she adapted.
Now an Orlando mom – whom she had with husband Alexander Plunket Greene in 1970 – she has juggled a full-time career and a family life.
Orlando says, âI’ve always been aware that things are different. I was very aware that the house was a private place.
“There was a slight bomb shelter atmosphere and that was where we were sort of going to hide, which I think is inevitable when paparazzi are waiting at the end of the ride.”
Luckily for British fashion, the designer wasn’t too shy to cover up completely.
- Quant (12A) is now available.