Fashion in the sixties emerged as the prime of eclectic experimentation with colour, shape, and fabric. It was a game-changing era that had been redundantly repeating itself over the course of decades to follow—the eighties, nineties and the recent years have all incorporated one or two of the sixties’ distinctive trademarks: high white or tinted boots, loosened waist, leopard print, beret, and even space-age fashion. At the core of this exciting pivotal period in mode, trendsetter Mary Quant surprised the world with her bold introduction of the mini skirt, tights, hot pants, jersey dress, PVC (polyvinyl chloride) rainwear, military uniform style, and a broad range of unisex attire.
Capturing the “Swinging London” cultural scene pioneered by Mary Quant, The Bunkamura Museum of Art in Tokyo is exhibiting “Mary Quant” till January 29th this year. Visitors will be ushered back in time, surveying about a hundred garments brought to Japan by the Victoria and Albert Museum in the UK, accompanied by accessories, photographs, videos, and other materials. The window display-like showcase travels down the journey of Quant's career as a valuable designer from the 1950s to the 1970s.
The exhibition begins with the early life of Mary Quant, born in London in 1930. As a young child, she experienced the horrors of World War II, which compelled her family to evacuate to the countryside. Here, she learned to savour the sense of unrestraint in country living and to meet free-thinking and pleasure-seeking people in the art school. Quant had always been a fashion and art enthusiast in her youth, having studied illustration and art education at Goldsmiths College. After working at a luxury hat shop, she set up her boutique, Bazaar in 1955, with her husband-to-be Alexander Plunkett-Greene and their business partner Archie McNair. The shop catalyzed her career success. Her merchandise sale catered to the young generation; miniskirts and funky dresses popped up in quirky store windows. Girls who wore her creations were called the Chelsea Girls. Quant struggled profusely to make ends meet with finance and manufacturing, and she sewed dresses at night. She claimed,
I had to sell one day's output before I had the money to go out and buy more material. At first, I didn't think of myself as a designer. I just knew that I wanted to concentrate on finding the right clothes for the young to wear and the right accessories to go with them.
The exhibition displays many of Quant’s creations from her Bazaar boutique, which soon turned world famous, selling across Britain, the US, Europe, Australia, and others.
Shattering the orthodox notion that elegant clothing preferably dressed aristocrats, and garments were classified by social classes, Quant envisioned breaking the fashion barrier by establishing a mass production system for ready-made and affordable wear. Thus, she popularized commonplace material, like PVC rainwear and wool jersey, and dazzling, playful hues that could suit all ages. Colourful window displays in the exhibition reveal rainwear in varied shades with matching hats and boots, and multi-coloured wool jersey dresses, ensembled with berets and tights. She conveyed the message that pants, jeans and suits were equally in vogue for women. Military uniforms and men’s suit fabrics appeared on women's casual wear, daringly defying stereotypes, such as gender and class consciousness. An example of this radical idea was the Bank of England dress in striped twill and exaggerated collar and cuffs. While the business attire was reserved for the working man at the time, it was parodied by Quant as a subtle rebellion against women’s inability to open a bank account without the written consent of a male relative. Such an insubmissive disposition centered around the sixties and seventies when women’s and labour rights, equality, and the sexual revolution swept throughout the UK and other countries. Quant’s fashion identity, therefore, not only triggered a stylish but also cultural provocation.
The lower-priced line Ginger Group was another trend Quant created in 1963. The term ginger was coined by the UK’s political party and implied Quant’s desire to produce modern and edgy clothing for a wider clientele. A palette of ginger orange, brown, mustard, yellow and red, and items that could be paired together with different things dominated the young fad scene.
Apart from the wardrobe, Quant also steered the hair look towards the simple short bob cut, thanks to stylist Vidal Sassoon. Several photographs illustrating the five-point cut are shown in the exhibition. Her iconic Daisy logo is applied to her cosmetic line and accessories as well. It was said that she often drew the daisy flower-like image while making her sketches in order to release her ideas naturally.
With the inclusion of her design for the Mini car, Quant’s global fame reached the circle of celebrities who enjoyed her apparel: Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy, Grace Coddington, George Harrison, Pattie Boyd, Rolling Stones, Beatles and more. She was appointed a Dame (DBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in the 2015 New Year Honors for services to British mode. Today at 92 years old, she is still and always will be remembered for her inventive, unpretentious, and high-spirited ideologies that instigated liberation and individuality in the world of fashion. In her own words: