You know the bold chevron and geometric patterns that are everywhere now? Well, guess who started that trend? Yes, Mary Quant back in the fifties and swinging sixties, along with block panels of colour and bold stripes. I reckon stripes will be coming back in soon, too.
Mary Quant was the first ‘designer’ I was ever aware of when I was just eight, introduced to me by my mother. Even though she was highly successful and at the height of her career a couple of decades before I was born, I was captivated and blown away by this bold graphic style, bright colours and of course the iconic stylised daisy logo.
Me and (above) my style guru…..
Mary, who studied Illustration at Goldsmiths College London, was a self taught designer, a game changer in the fashion world. She opened her first store in 1955, Bazaar, on the Kings Road in London and frequented by the Chelsea Set – a group of young artists, film directors and socialites interested in exploring new ways of living. Her cutting-edge designs were on the covers of Harpers Bazaar and Vogue, and she mixed with the new trendsetters in society, the Rolling Stones, Beatles and photographer David Bailey.
With her cottage-industry approach, the rails at Bazaar were continually refreshed with short runs of new designs, satisfying the customers’ hunger for fresh, unique looks at competitive prices.
She also offered a radically different shopping experience with loud music, free drinks, witty window displays and extended opening hours creating a ‘scene’ that often kept going late into the evening. Young women travelled to Bazaar to enjoy shopping for ‘something different’ in a much less formal environment.
Quant’s first collections were strikingly modern in their simplicity, and very wearable. Pairing short tunic dresses with tights in bright, stand-out colours – scarlet, ginger, prune and grape – she created a bold, high-fashion version of the practical outfits she’d worn as a child at school and at dance classes. She’s also said to have invented the mini-skirt.
By 1957 demand for Quant’s clothes had led to the opening of a second Bazaar store on the King’s Road, in a space designed by Terence Conran.
In 1966 she was awarded an OBE for services to British fashion and in 1990 she was awarded the prestigious Hall of Fame Award by the British Fashion Council, recognising her outstanding contribution to British fashion, and became a Dame in the 2015 New Year’s Honours list.
In 2006 Quant’s iconic mini-skirt was included in a range of stamps by Royal Mail celebrating a decade of iconic British design alongside images of Concorde, the Mini car, the anglepoise lamp, the red telephone box, the Routemaster bus and the London Underground Map.
Mary also invented hot pants and was the first to use plastic coated fabrics and PVC with her ‘wet look’ fashions, and the fabulous Mondrian boots which, as shoe addict, I simply adore and would love to get my hands on a pair.
Go Go Girls arrived with their Go Go Boots and the Daddy Long-leg boots with their zip off leg section turning them into ankle boots. Her fashionable rain boots made of the new high gloss plastic fabrics were described as ‘waterproof, durable and indestructible’.
From the late 70s onwards, the business moved into mass-production high quality womenswear, alongside coordinated interior designs for British manufacturing company ICI, including bedlinen, carpets, paint and wallpaper, diffusion ranges such as swimwear, hosiery, jewellery, the Daisy fashion doll, and popular ‘Paintbox’ make up brand and skincare products.
When I was a teenager I wore baggy orange T-shirt dresses, black and white striped tights and monkey boots. I hadn’t realised the ‘modern day’ link with Mary Quant until I look back now, but it was to go on and influence me all through my life as my own design career unfolded.
As a professional designer, the eye catching stripes have never left my side, both in interiors and graphically in branded design. I love the simple shapes, beautiful proportions and clean lines which portray a confident image.
Mary’s style is still influencing today with over 300 Quant cosmetic stores in Japan, and the likes of Boden clothing, Alessi design products… and my own Fidget Design.
Mary Quant… Eighty four years young and still going strong. I salute you!