I was never quite old enough to enjoy the full impact of Mary Quant’s fashions and also, rather too plump for the leggy, mini-skirted fashions which I pored over in the pages of my Jackie magazine. As a child and young teenager, I was aware that there was an energetic world out there full of grown-ups with sports cars, coffee bars, girls with short-cropped hair, small dresses with big flower motifs who swung handbags with abandon as they sauntered down the King’s Road in Chelsea.
Mary Quant made the fantasy possible for all of us. I did eventually get a Mary Quant dress – it was purple with a swingy-drop waist skirt with collar and cuffs in bright yellow. It know, it sounds ghastly but I absolutely loved it and wore it to all the after-school events I could and always felt confident and ‘cool’. These things are so important when you’re growing up. The dress disappeared a long time ago but I hung onto a small pot of eye makeup called Ink Pot. I wanted to look wounded and tragic with bruised blue eyelids like models who looked deep and contemplative in sylvan wood settings, but it never suited me. I’m far too cheerful. The pot stayed with me – and most of the contents too – and I was delighted to dig it out of an old box of childish things and bring it with me when I went to the press preview of a retrospective on legendary fashion designer Mary Quant at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
I was holding up my pot of makeup by the museum exhibit when, by amazing serendipity, I found myself standing next to Dame Mary Quant herself! Well, I just had to ask for a photo and showed her the little pot. She was amused and delighted and I felt fifteen years old again.
The show at the V&A is a joy from start to finish. The evolution of the Mary Quant style is fascinating to review. Mary was clearly a talented girl with a very good eye and a huge talent for art and design. The was lucky to have a husband and confederates who helped mould her brand and take her unique look around the globe. Who knew that she would create clothes and a brand which would define a generation. That haircut (thank you Vidal Sassoon), those nifty little dresses, dainty shoes, swingy bags and oh that five petalled flowers which adorned everything – I only have to look at it and feel happy.
The curators at the V&A must have had fun when the put the shout out for Mary Quant clothing and products. Like me, there must have been thousands of women who have hung onto dresses long after their figures expanded too far for further wearing but couldn’t bear to part with these fabric treasures. What joy, here was an opportunity for the much loved garments to be taken out of storage and given their moment behind museum glass. I loved seeing the black and white and faded colour photos of women wearing their beloved Mary Quant fashions back in the day. It makes the fashion feel so real, so accessible, so owned.
And I did enjoy the films of Mary in her studio working on designs, dressing models, testing fabrics. What a role model for all of us. So, hasten ye down to the V&A to see this great show. It’s on until 16 February 2020 so no panic and tickets are £12.