LAURA SHAW REVIEWS THE MARY QUANT EXHIBITION AT THE V&A - LONDON
With thanks to Claire Mahoney & Mary Blackman Smith for additional photos
Mary Quant fan Laura Shaw takes us around the incredible Mary Quant exhibition currently on show at the V&A in London, this has fast become a must visit if you are a lover of the designer and beautiful 60's styling, Laura's fantastic review comes as part one of a two-part series about the show, part two will feature an interviewer with a key contributor to the show but in the meantime we hand you over to Laura and her very cool mum.......
Mary, Mum and me: our love of Quant
On the opening weekend of the Mary Quant exhibition at the V&A in London, my mother and I met in London to share our love of everything Mary Quant.
The V&A’s current retrospective tells the story of how Mary Quant helped to bring fun, practical and affordable fashions to our high street. The exhibition, like her style, is bold and colourful. Expect to see a vast array of clothes, including some from Mary’s own collection and beautiful displays covering everything from the Daisy doll (like Sindy but much cooler) to a lobster being taken for a walk.
It’s hard to imagine in this world of marketing and mass consumed fashion that one single designer could make such an impact on her generation and those to come. Mary’s designs were meant to be practical and fun, she encouraged the younger generations to dress for themselves, and this was all very new. She declared that she wished she has designed Levis because they are hard-wearing, easy to wear and sexy – the perfect garment. Mary doesn’t take credit for designing the mini-skirt but she was certainly influential in bringing it to the masses. She loved the design of the mini-skirt so much because it was ideal for running for the bus as well as looking great. The mini skirt did ruffle some feathers (my Mum got a memo at work complaining about the length of hers) but Mary was quoted as saying she “didn’t have time to wait for feminism”. I love that story about my Mum and the exhibition also has some wonderful footage of a woman who contributed items to the exhibition talking about the impact Mary had on their lives. Expect an article from Suit Yourself Modernist from one of these women soon!
Mary made the most of marketing: branding her creations with a bold, iconic daisy logo (which cover the walls of the exhibition), wearing the clothes she made and selling a way of living to the young generation. It all started with a single shop on Kings Road in London, with its quirky window displays it was one of the places to be seen. In 1955 Mary was working alone, replenishing stock each night in her near-by bedsit, by the mid-70s she was shipping globally and had international fame. She was so keen to make these fashions available to everybody so there was even a range of Butternick sewing patterns produced and on display are some of these hand-made garments.
You can learn more about her story and see over 200 garments and accessories at the exhibition. It also shows off her range of make-up and accessories, some amazing photography (think David Bailey), stories from women who contributed items (including a beautiful bag that the owner still takes out dancing much to the shock of the museum archivists). Sadly, though, there’s no Mary Quant Mini car on display, but that’s my only complaint!
Perhaps taking their cue from Mary, the V&A also used some nifty marketing. Months before opening they started the #wewantquant hashtag, asking the world to contribute their Quant pieces for the exhibition. As well as securing some exceptional one-off designs for the show, it was a wonderful way to build anticipation for the event and had people like me counting down the days until it opened. People are still using the hashtag to share their experiences of the exhibition, with the obligatory shot of the giant daisy being the most shared image.
Girls had few options other than to dress like their mothers until designers like Mary Quant came along, bringing affordable, fun and practical clothes to the swinging sixties generation. My Mum grew up in Birmingham during that era and she’d save up her wages and head down to Kings Road at the weekends. Even in the 1990s she was always the best-dressed mum at the school gates and I actually found myself wanting to dress like my mother. Jump to 2019 and Mary Quant’s style can still be seen – and not just on the Mod girls. Every few years there is a high street revival of mini dresses with Peter Pan collars (sadly without the quality of fabric and care that Mary put into her designs), demonstrating her inescapable influence.
So what if you want a bit of Quant in your life now? On our visit, I wore a mini skirt and a top with a Peter Pan collar, which is pretty much my standard day wear thanks to my Mum and Mary! The top was made by Angela at Carnaby Streak www.carnabystreak.co.uk, who makes all of her own designs. Discovering her line some years ago was a revelation for me. I’d say it’s the closest you can get to a modern-day Quant outfit. You can also visit www.maryquant.co.uk. The company is no longer linked to the woman herself, but if you’re a fan like me it’s still nice to have a Mary Quant lipstick. It’s still beautifully packaged and good quality.
The exhibition has been designed beautifully: it’s a history lesson and a visual delight. It runs until February 2020 and you should pre-book your tickets (weekends are selling out fast.) Remember to post a photo with the hashtag #wewantquant if you go and, if you fancy it, #suityourselfmodernistculture too!
Find out more and book tickets here: www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/mary-quant
WORDS - LAURA SHAW