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Mary Quant (1966)
Barbara Mary Quant
11 February 1934
Blackheath, London, England
|Other names||Barbara Mary Plunket Greene|
|Spouse(s)||Alexander Plunket Greene (1957-1990; his death); 1 son|
|Awards||DBE, FCSD, RDI|
She became an instrumental figure in the 1960s London-based Mod and youth fashion movements. She was one of the designers who took credit for the miniskirt and hotpants, and by promoting these and other fun fashions she encouraged young people to dress to please themselves and to treat fashion as a game. Ernestine Carter, an authoritative and influential fashion journalist of the 1950s and 1960s, wrote: "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."
Quant was born on 11 February 1934 in Blackheath, London, the daughter of Welsh teachers. Her parents, Jack and Mildred Quant (John H Quant married Mildred G Jones, 1925), were both from mining families; however, they had been awarded scholarships to grammar school and had both attained first-class degrees at Cardiff University before they moved to London to work as school teachers.
She went to Blackheath High School, then studied illustration at Goldsmiths College. After gaining a Diploma in Art Education from Goldsmiths, Quant began an apprenticeship at Erik, a high-end Mayfair milliner on Brook Street next door to Claridge's hotel.
She met her future husband and business partner, Alexander Plunket Greene in 1953. They were married from 1957 until his death in 1990, and had a son, Orlando (b. 1970).
In November 1955, Quant and Plunket Greene teamed up with a photographer and former solicitor, Archie McNair, to open Quant's first shop on the corner of Markham Square and King's Road in Chelsea, London called Bazaar, above "Alexander's", a basement restaurant run by Plunket Green. In 1957, they opened the second branch of Bazaar, which was designed by Terence Conran.
Successful designs from this early period included small white plastic collars to brighten up sweaters and dresses, bright stockings in colours matched to her knitwear, men's cardigans made long enough to be worn as dresses, and a pair of "mad" lounging pyjamas made by Quant herself which were featured in Harper's Bazaar and purchased by an American manufacturer to copy. Following this, Quant decided to design and make more of the clothes she stocked, instead of buying-in stock. Initially working solo, she was soon employing a handful of machinists, and by 1966 she was working with eighteen manufacturers concurrently.
For a while in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Quant was one of only two London-based high-end designers consistently offering youthful clothes for young people. The other was Kiki Byrne, who opened her boutique on the King's Road in direct competition with Quant.
The miniskirt, described as one of the defining fashions of the 1960s, is one of the garments most widely associated with Quant. While she is often cited as the inventor of the style, this claim has been challenged by others. Marit Allen, a contemporary fashion journalist and editor of the influential "Young Ideas" pages for UK Vogue, firmly stated that another British fashion designer, John Bates, rather than Quant or André Courrèges, was the original creator of the miniskirt. Others credit Courrèges with the invention of the style. However, skirts had been getting shorter since the 1950s—a development Quant considered practical and liberating, allowing women the ability to run for a bus.
Quant later said, "It was the girls on the King's Road [during the "Swinging London" scene] who invented the mini. I was making easy, youthful, simple clothes, in which you could move, in which you could run and jump and we would make them the length the customer wanted. I wore them very short and the customers would say, 'Shorter, shorter.'" She gave the miniskirt its name, after her favourite make of car, the Mini, and said of its wearers, "they are curiously feminine, but their femininity lies in their attitude rather than in their appearance ... She enjoys being noticed, but wittily. She is lively—positive—opinionated."
In addition to the miniskirt, Quant is often credited with inventing the coloured and patterned tights that tended to accompany the garment, although their creation is also attributed to the Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga who offered harlequin-patterned tights in 1962 or to John Bates.
In the late 1960s, Quant popularised hot pants and became a British fashion icon. Through the 1970s and 1980s she concentrated on household goods and make-up, rather than just her clothing lines, including the duvet which she claims to have invented.
In 1988, Quant designed the interior of the Mini (1000) Designer (originally dubbed the Mini Quant, the name was changed when popularity charts were set against having Quant's name on the car). It featured black and white striped seats with red trimming. The seatbelts were red, and the driving and passenger seats had Quant's signature on the upper left quadrant. The steering wheel had Quant's signature daisy and the bonnet badge had "Mary Quant" written over the signature name. The headlight housings, wheel arches, door handles and bumpers were all nimbus grey, rather than the more common chrome or black finishes. Two thousand were released in the U.K. on 15 June 1988, and a number were also released on to foreign markets; however, the numbers for these are hard to come by. The special edition Mini came in two body colours, jet black and diamond white. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Society of Designers, and winner of the Minerva Medal, the Society's highest award.
In 1963 Quant was the first winner of the Dress of the Year award. In 1966 she was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her outstanding contribution to the fashion industry. She arrived at Buckingham Palace to accept the award in a cream wool jersey minidress with blue facings. She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to British fashion.
In 1990 she won the Hall of Fame Award of the British Fashion Council. Quant received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 2006. In 2012, Quant was among the British cultural icons selected by artist Sir Peter Blake to appear in a new version of his most famous artwork – the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover – to celebrate the British cultural figures of his life.
In the 1966 Donovan song - 'Sunny South Kensington', Quant and Jean-Paul Belmondo's drug use/abuse is immortalized in the lyric: "Jean-Paul Belmondo and-a Mary Quant got stoned, to say the least".
Quant was responsible for hot pants, the Lolita look, the slip dress, PVC raincoats, smoky eyes and sleek bob haircuts, but it was make-up that eventually made her company the most money.
Apart from the mini, Quant is credited with popularising white "go-go" boots, patterned tights, brightly-coloured "Paintbox" make-up, the micro-mini skirt, plastic raincoats, the "wet look", and hot-pants, which she designed in 1966, the year she received an OBE from the Queen for her services to the fashion industry.