The Fashion History of Dame Mary Quant

British Fashion Council

A champion of a new age of womenswear and one of the great innovators of the swinging sixties.

DAME MARY QUANT
Dame Mary Quant, who rose to fame during the 1960’s, is one of fashion’s most important designers. Dame Mary’s contribution to British fashion is enormous and her influence is still felt all over the world in the clothes we wear today. A true pioneer she was at the vanguard of the ‘Swinging London’ scene, designing clothes that perfectly embodied the freedom and energy of the time. Although,  Quant is probably most famous for the mini-skirt, her influence is so much broader than this iconic piece of clothing; she transformed cosmetics, tights and underwear, rainwear, shoes and boots, home furnishings and a vast array of other products, with their distinctive packaging and daisy logo, which were sold internationally. For more than 60 years, Dame Mary Quant has been at the forefront of fashion, design and retail and her groundbreaking and original clothes and accessories are displayed in Museums worldwide. 

TIMELINE

1954 - Met Archie McNair, whose new coffee bar, ‘The Fantasie’, in the King’s Road became the centre of Chelsea life.

1955 - First Bazaar shop opened in Chelsea, London, in partnership with Alexander Plunket Greene and Archie McNair.

1956 - Finding it difficult to purchase the type of garments she wished to sell, Mary Quant began to design clothes herself.

1957 - Second Bazaar shop opened in Knightsbridge (closed 1969) and married Alexander Plunket Greene.

1963 - Mary Quant’s Ginger Group founded, creating a wholesale range of garments designed by Mary Quant to retail worldwide. Elected ‘Woman of the Year’.

1965 - First complete rainwear collection, first designs for tights and subsequently expanded to include all hosiery and underwear (made by Nylon Hosiery). First swimwear designs.

1966 - Mary Quant received Order of British Empire (OBE). Mary Quant Daisy logo registered and Mary Quant Cosmetics launched. First designs for footwear.

1968 - Range of berets for Kangol.

1969 - Elected Royal Designer for Industry by the Royal Society of Arts.

1970 - First collection of household furnishings and domestic textiles launched in conjunction with ICI Fibres. Started Knitwear division.

1972 - Designed men’s ties, the first time she had designed specifically for men. Models included Kingsley Amis, Michael Parkinson and Vidal Sassoon.

1973 - ‘Mary Quant’s London’ – exhibition at the London Museum, Kensington Palace.

1975 - Dolores hats and scarves launched. First range of Jewellery launched and MQ Cosmetics for Men launched.

1978 - Mary Quant Childrenswear launched (Viyella).

1983 - Introduced Mary Quant fashionwear into the Japanese market in association with Mary Quant Cosmetics Japan Limited. Mary Quant colour shops opened.

1988 -Launch of Mini car (Austin).

1990 - Hall of Fame Award presented by the British Fashion Council for her outstanding contribution to the British Fashion Industry.

1994 - Mary Quant Colour Shop opened in Chelsea.

1996 - Mary Quant Colour Shop opened in Rue Bonaparte, St. Germain, Paris.

1998 - Mary Quant Concept Shop opened in Madison Avenue, New York.

2000 - In October Mary retired from her directorship of Mary Quant Limited but continues to act as a consultant.

2009 - Postage stamps issued featuring Mary Quant.

2015 - Became a Dame in the New Year Honour’s List.

CHANEL, DIOR & MARY QUANT

Ernestine Carter, one of the most influential fashion journalists of the 1950’s and 60’s said, ‘It is given to a fortunate few to be born at the right time, in the right place, with the right talents. In recent fashion there are three: Chanel, Dior and Mary Quant.’

THE FIRST BAZAAR SHOP

Mary Quant was born in Blackheath, London on 11 February 1934, the daughter of Welsh school teachers, Jack and Mildred Quant, who were both from mining families.

She went to Blackheath High School then studied illustration at Goldsmiths College where she met her future business partner and husband, Alexander Plunket Greene in 1953. On leaving, she began an apprenticeship at Erik, a Mayfair milliner next door to Claridges Hotel.

A year later Mary and Alexander met lawyer-turned photographer Archie McNair, whose new coffee bar, ‘The Fantasie’ became the London centre of young culture, attracting painters, writers, musicians, photographers, socialites, etc. Together the triumvirate opened the first Bazaar shop in The King’s Road in 1955. Mary, finding it difficult to purchase the type of garments she wished to sell, began to design clothes herself launching a fashion revolution which was the focus of Chelsea Life.

Her philosophy was for clothes which were fun, providing freedom, the ability to run, jump and move, unhampered by the constraints of petticoats of the post war period. And they created a sensation. Bazaar’s window displays were eye catching and, in some cases, shocking, and provoked a buzz resulting in queues down the street as shoppers jostled to get in and buy.

EXPANSION & SUCCESS

A second Bazaar opened in Knightsbridge in 1957, the same year that Mary and Alexander married. They also completely changed the way that clothes were presented and shown. Models, with a glass of champagne held aloft, danced down the stairs and into the admiring audience below, creating a sense of speed and vitality to jazz and the contemporary music of the day. It was exciting and dramatic, and particularly stunning when they took their models to New York to launch the collections there.

By the early ‘60’s Mary was designing clothes and underwear for JC Penney to be manufactured in the States and back in London in 1963 she founded a wholesale range of garments, ‘Mary Quant’s Ginger Group’ to retail worldwide at more affordable prices. That same year Mary won the Sunday Times International Award, was elected Woman of the Year and experimented with PVC for rainwear.

A year later Puritan Fashions signed Mary to design dresses, she won the Maison Blanche Award also in the USA and branched into paper patterns for Butterick – making her designs available to home dressmakers.

As skirts became ever shorter in 1965 she launched her first range of tights and subsequently expanded into other sorts of hosiery and underwear.

RECOGNITION & A FAMOUS LOGO

In 1966 she received the OBE ‘For jolting England out of its conventional attitude towards clothes’, the famous Daisy logo was registered and began appearing on all packaging, she launched her ground-breaking range of cosmetics, published her original autobiography, ‘Quant by Quant’, received a number of further Awards and ventured into footwear.

Subsequently she was elected Fellow of the Society of Industrial Artists, winning the SIAD annual design medal and was elected Royal Designer for Industry by the RSA.

The new decade saw her first collection of household furnishings and domestic textiles, an initiative of ICI Fibres who wanted the rather dull interiors market to be updated with the same sort of impact that Mary had achieved in clothes. She started her Knitwear division, based in South Molton Street (alongside Ginger Group) and her son, Orlando, was born.

As the decade advanced so did her ever increasing range of products, for the first time venturing into menswear, then stationery, spectacle frames and sunglasses, hats, mugs, wine, dressmaking fabrics, jewellery, umbrellas, an extension of the interiors merchandise including carpets, paints and wallpapers, beds, and many more.

A NEW DECADE: THE 1970's

In 1973 her retrospective exhibition, ‘Mary Quant’s London, opened at The Museum of London (Kensington Palace), to wide acclaim on 29 November and continued until 30 June 1974. Also in ’73, one of her favourite and successful initiatives was Daisy – an enchantingly pretty and long curly haired blond 9 inch doll - which featured a complete wardrobe of garments and accessories and was launched to huge applause; to be followed a year later by Havoc, (reputed to be Mary’s alter ego), a redheaded, motor bike riding, tomboy whose activities could outshine Action Man!

She launched a range of uniforms for Freddy Laker’s Court Line aircraft company, took part in the famed RCA Fashion Show and became a member of the UK-USA Bicentennial Liaison Committee.

During 1974 BBC2 made am hour’s documentary to feature in their Lifestyle series, broadcast on 18 December of that year and then in 1975 created a further sensation by launching a range of cosmetics and skincare products for men.

Mary became a member of the Victoria and Albert Advisory Council in 1976 and in the Spring launched her women’s garment range for Viyella, which was followed by Childrenswear in 1978.

In 1977 Mary was included in the Mayotte Magnus exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and two years later in the show celebrating the work of Arnold Newman at the same venue.

A NEW DECADE: THE 1970's

In 1973 her retrospective exhibition, ‘Mary Quant’s London, opened at The Museum of London (Kensington Palace), to wide acclaim on 29 November and continued until 30 June 1974. Also in ’73, one of her favourite and successful initiatives was Daisy – an enchantingly pretty and long curly haired blond 9 inch doll - which featured a complete wardrobe of garments and accessories and was launched to huge applause; to be followed a year later by Havoc, (reputed to be Mary’s alter ego), a redheaded, motor bike riding, tomboy whose activities could outshine Action Man!

She launched a range of uniforms for Freddy Laker’s Court Line aircraft company, took part in the famed RCA Fashion Show and became a member of the UK-USA Bicentennial Liaison Committee.

During 1974 BBC2 made am hour’s documentary to feature in their Lifestyle series, broadcast on 18 December of that year and then in 1975 created a further sensation by launching a range of cosmetics and skincare products for men.

Mary became a member of the Victoria and Albert Advisory Council in 1976 and in the Spring launched her women’s garment range for Viyella, which was followed by Childrenswear in 1978.

In 1977 Mary was included in the Mayotte Magnus exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and two years later in the show celebrating the work of Arnold Newman at the same venue.

A SECOND FAMOUS 'MINI'

The 1980’s were equally productive as Mary published books featuring her make up ideas, launched the limited edition of the Mary Quant Mini car in conjunction with Austin, and introduced fashion and cosmetics to the Japanese market with the opening of a number of ‘Colour Shops’.

INDUCTION TO THE HALL OF FAME

In 1990 Mary was Awarded the British Fashion Council’s coveted Hall of Fame Award for her outstanding contribution to the British Fashion Industry and on 4 May her husband, Alexander, died.

During the 1990’s Mary received a number of further awards, continued to be featured in exhibitions including the Imperial War Museum’s ‘Bomb to the Beatles’, published a further make-up and beauty book and saw the opening of Mary Quant colour shops in Europe and the States as well as one in Chelsea. She became a non-executive Director of House of Fraser where she demonstrated her business acumen as well as her fashion insight in a very large fashion business.

MARY QUANT TODAY

In 2000 Mary retired from her directorship of Mary Quant Limited, continuing to act as a consultant to the business up to the present day. During the current century she continues to receive recognition for her vast contribution to design, fashion and culture and in 2006 attended the Woman of Achievement reception at Buckingham Palace, had a stamp dedicated to her in the in in 2009, appeared in the Vidal Sassoon movie in 2010, published her second autobiography in 2012 and in 2015 became a Dame in the New Year’s Honour’s List, the same year that her former business partner, Archie McNair, died.

"Fashion is not frivolous. It is a part of being alive today."

Dame Mary Quant

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by the British Fashion Council in collaboration with Heather Tilbury and with the help of Janey Bain. The British Fashion Council would like to thank both, in particular Heather, for their efforts in creating this online exhibit. Without both this online exhibit would not have been possible.

The British Fashion Council would also like to thank the estate of Vidal Sassoon for granting permission to use the two portraits of Dame Mary Quant included in this online exhibit (as credited).

All photographers and models have been credited where known.
All other rights for the individual content included in this online exhibit are as credited.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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