Mary Quant - Fashion Designer

by Pat Jacobs
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Mary Quant was one of the most famous fashion designers of the 1960s; her best-known creation was the mini-skirt. (Accounts vary on who really invented this, for there were actually several designers who came up with the idea, including Andre Courreges - he's most famous for the "color block" style dresses. But Quant DID make the mini-skirt a worldwide sensation.)

After studying illustration at art school, Quant worked for a couture milliner; she would often spend three days stitching a hat for one customer.

It was while working here that the young designer decided that fashion should also exist for her peers and everyone, not just the privileged few.

With this in mind, Quant opened the London boutique, Bazaar, in 1955 (Quant herself had no previous formal business training or prior experience in selling clothes. Boyfriend-later-husband Alexander Plunkett-Green and accountant Archie McNair, who also knew nothing about selling clothes, financed the shop jointly. But the trio knew fashion, and everything clicked into place. In the first week, the shop did five times the amount of business expected!)

The first best-sellers were small white plastic collars to brighten up black dresses or sweaters. These sold for the equivalent of 30 cents each. Black stretch stockings were also a popular item.

Quant attempted to find new and interesting items for the shop, but as a buyer, she wasn't satisfied with the range of clothes available to her. This led to the decision to design and manufacture her own (This was also fueled in part to the positive reaction of a pair of "mad house pajamas" designed for the boutique opening by Quant. The pajamas were featured in Harpers Bazaar and then picked up by an American manufacturer to copy. Quant was on her way.)

The budding designer soon expanded from working solo to having a few machinists; by 1966, Quant was working with 18 different manufacturers.

Some early experimental designs included balloon style dresses and knickerbockers. Large spots and checks were mixed. In the early 60s she designed the first range of coordinates in England with items such as sleeveless dresses and pinafore dresses featuring unusual color combinations.

The store's success led to the opening of a second Bazaar shop in 1961(This was also successful.) Quant decided to go wholesale, the only way to keep prices down to an accessible level for the mass market.

By 1963 she was exporting her fashions to the U.S.-the focus was on "mix and match" separates, coats, boots, stockings and accessories, thus creating a harmonized total "look". To keep up with U.S. market demands, she went into mass-production, setting up the Ginger Group internationally. The Mary Quant brand was born.

By 1964, the first mini-skirts arrived in New York. By now (and especially in London), the "mod" or "Chelsea look" was taking hold in both countries and soon, worldwide. And Mary Quant became the major fashion force outside of Paris, THE designer of the mid-60s.

Besides the mini-skirt (Quant's skirt designs had been getting shorter since around 1958-she wanted women to be able to easily move around and run in them. This creation was named after her favorite brand of car, the Mini.), Quant is often credited with creating the colored and patterned tights that were worn with the mini, but these are also attributed to the noted designer Cristobal Balnenciaga.

Among her numerous designs were vinyl boots (she's credited with creating white "go-go boots", but I think she helped to make them popular. I believe Andre Courreges created these. Or perhaps both designers created these separately?), dresses with strong colors and striking geometric designs, the "wet" look, the extremely short micro-mini (Men everywhere should thank this woman!), plastic raincoats, white, knee-high, lace-up boots, tight, skinny sweaters in stripes and bold checks.

She developed the "paint box" make-up of 1966. Also in June of this year, Quant received an OBE (Order of the British Empire medal) from Queen Elizabeth II for her outstanding contributions to the fashion industry (She attended the ceremony wearing a mini and cut-away gloves!). A Mary Quant fashion show, even a window display, became an event or a "happening".

At the height of her fame, the designer once predicted that pubic (no, not public, PUBIC) hair would be a fashion statement in the 1970s. That suggestion was scorned, BUT no one DENIED the possibility (Aren't you glad THAT didn't happen?) She also said, at the height of the Twiggy mania (1967), that "Suddenly every girl with a hope of getting away with it is aiming to look not only under voting age, but under the age of consent."

In the late 60s, Quant launched the short-lived fad of hot pants, which was her last big fashion design. In the 1970s and '80s, she concentrated on household goods and makeup, but she will always be known for her innovative, designing style that helped define the 1960s.

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