Fifty years after winning the Order of the British Empire Award in 1966, Mary Quant was named a Dame for services to British Fashion. She made London the capital of world fashion instead of a place where you could only find a twin-set and pearls!
‘When I was six years old and in bed with measles, I spent one night cutting up the bedspreads with nail scissors. Even at that age, I could see that the wild colour of the bedspreads would make a super dress.’
Still brimming with enthusiasm over fashion and women’s rights, Mary Quant, the creator of the mini skirt and the queen of swinging London in the 60’s, recently celebrated her 81st birthday. ‘Today women are enjoying their lives more,’ she said. ‘It’s wonderful to be alive and to be a woman right now.’
Known for her iconic Sassoon haircut, Quant’s style and personality made her the most famous fashion designer who ever came out of Great Britain. She scandalized British society with her frank view on sex and her thigh-high skirts worn with coloured tights.
Fashion was snobbery in the days before Quant. It was a monopoly of the rich dictated by Parisian couturiers. Clothes were a sign of a woman’s social position.
‘I wanted to produce affordable clothes that appealed to a new generation,’ Quant wrote in her Autobiography QUANT by QUANT. ‘In our shop, you could find duchesses jostling with typists to buy the same dress. We sold clothes that expressed freedom rather than pleasing men and being well behaved.’
After completing her primary education in 1951, Quant’s parents encouraged her to pursue a career.
‘It was made absolutely clear that I had to earn my own living. My parents never considered the possibility that marriage might be the way out for a girl. Unfortunately, my idea of a career didn’t quite match their expectations of me to study a practical vocation. I managed to win a scholarship to take an Art Teacher’s Diploma at Goldsmiths College where I immediately met my future business partner and husband Alexander Plunkett Greene.’
After Greene inherited 5,000 pounds on his 21st birthday, they paired up with their friend Archie McNair, rented a 3-story building on King’s Road in London’s artist district Chelsea, and opened Bazaar Boutique on the first floor and a restaurant in the basement. The shop sold clothes and accessories, the restaurant became a meeting place for young people, artists, and celebrities like Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Hepburn, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
‘City gents in bowler hats beat on our windows with their umbrellas shouting 'IMMORAL!' and 'DISGUSTING!' at the sight of our mini-skirts over the tights, but customers poured in to buy.’
Struggling to make ends meet and suffering ridicule from some passers-by, Quant persevered and in less than 10 years her clothing designs were famous and selling in 150 shops in Britain, 320 stores in the United States and throughout the world: France, Italy, Kenya, South Africa, Canada, Australia, and Switzerland.
When Quant’s designs eventually faded in popularity, her business continued to expand to include everything from carpet to swimsuits to toys.
In 1983, she launched Mary Quant At Home, a line of household furnishings featuring wallpaper and china based on a chosen colour scheme.
In QUANT by QUANT she explains, ‘In the 1950’s there was no make-up around that I wanted to wear so I began experimenting with crayons and I produced my own line. ‘
Her cosmetics were most popular in Japan and by the mid 90’s she had more than 200 stores.
In the year 2000, the fashion icon who was the inspiration for the swinging 60’s resigned as the director of her cosmetics company after a Japanese buy-out and is happily a consultant.
She now lives quietly between her homes in Surrey and Grasse.
Her husband and business partner Alexander Plunkett Greene died at 57 years old in 1990.
They had one son.
Quant’s customers would say, ‘Shorter, shorter, make our hemlines shorter!’ It was really the girls on King’s Road who invented the mini.