Now it’s rare that I stray from the path of interiors but I hope you will forgive me this one-off indulgence. Last week I was invited to the preview of a new exhibition at the V&A museum – the first ever retrospective on the fashion designer Mary Quant.
Yes it’s fashion, but Quant, now 89 and a Dame, was so enormously influential in so many fields – she not only revolutionised the high street (and most high street fashion stores now sell homewares but her pioneering attitude and challenge the social mores of the period as well as being central to that period in the 60s when London, or more precisely Chelsea, wasn’t just a place but an attitude. A time when Terence Conran opened the first Habitat and Zev Aram, set up the first Aram store nearby. Zeev told me years ago that people would come into the store and berate him for its ugliness – read modernity.
Indeed London’s Fashion and Textile Museum also has an exhibition bringing Quant and Conran together to tell the story of a lifestyle revolution which runs until 2 June.
The two were friends and while Conran was revolutionising our homes with his modern textiles and furniture, so Quant was changing the clothes that women did it in.
Quant was hugely influential both then and now. The V&A exhibition focuses on the years between 1955 when she began her career with a tiny shop on the King’s Road to 1975 by which time she was a global sales phenomenon with clothes, make-up, hosiery, bags and the famous Daisy doll, launched as a rival to Barbie but with her own (much cooler) mini Quant wardrobe. I had one and there was also colouring books and press-out paper dolls that you could dress.
At a time when women were banned from wearing trousers in restaurants, Quant defiantly wore what she wanted. Credited with inventing the mini skirt – she didn’t it was already being worn in street fashion – she made it much, much shorter.
When I wrote about the exhibition after attending the opening last Wednesday, one woman (@lindacathetine) got in touch to say: “In the late 60s we were finally allowed to wear trousers. However, I was sent home from work for wearing hot pants. It was a dare and I had taken a dress just in case…”
Anne Skinner told me: “ I remember being accused of causing a riot in the playground when I was a novice teacher because I was wearing trousers to work.”
It seems hard to imagine nowadays, but given those remarks, we can understand just how groundbreaking Quant was.
It was also incredible looking at all the clothes and just how wearable they would be now. I would happily wear any of the dresses and jackets that are among the 120 outfits on display.
Opening the exhibition, Tristram Hunt, said that while the clothes were more expensive than the high street (twice the price of M&S back then) they were worn by everyone from debutantes to nurses.
Quant brought bright colour of a dull post-war Britain and with it a period of optimism and a desire to change the status quo. She was, said Hunt, bigger than a brand. She was a movement of hope and liberation. I only wish she could start designing again.