This new book, Mary Quant, is the catalog (of sorts) of an exhibition currently showing at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The exhibition and book have been a long time in coming. I’m not going to fight the old did-she-or-did-she-not invent the mini skirt, but I am going to say that Quant’s work influenced how we all dressed in the Sixties and beyond.
Before this book, the best account of Quant’s life was her autobiography with was published at the height of her career in 1966. And while the book is fantastic, it was a bit of a letdown to a person like me who tends to dwell on details. The lack of dates in the book was extremely annoying.
But curator and author Jenny Lister and her collaborators on this book have definitely filled in those gaps. It was greatly enhanced by an appeal on the museum’s social media sites to get women to share their Mary Quant stories from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Some of the stories and the garments connected to them actually ended up in the exhibition and the book.
Besides showing many of the garments shown in the exhibition, we also get to see photos from the Quant archive of the clothes as worn by models. This Ginger Group dress probably dates from 1966.
Here’s the same dress in a different colorway. The V&A acquired this dress for the exhibition. I know this because they got it, and another one, from my friends at Style and Salvage.
Because the curator had access to the Mary Quant archive, we are treated to the supporting material of many of the designs featured.
This dress, “Stampede”, is quite early, 1962. Skirts were getting shorter, but the mini was still a couple of years in the future.
In 1963 Quant released her Ginger Group line. It was less expensive than the clothes she made for her own Bazaar boutiques, and was wholesaled to stores. The Quant girls in the ad were designed by Maureen Roffey.
The dresses in the whimsical advertising were actual clothes included in the line. Do you recognize the famous face on the left?
And here are the design details for the dress on the right in the ad. It dates to 1965.
With the exception of the three Bazaar boutiques which were all closed by 1969, Mary Quant was a wholesaler. She maintained a design and sewing workroom to make samples, but her clothes were made by other firms. She (or actually Archie McNair, her partner along with her husband Alexander Plunkett Green) made lots of deals to sell her designs. In the US, JC Penney made and sold Quant designs, as well as Puritan. Starting in 1964 Butterick patterns released Quant designs as part of their Young Designer line.
Often the clothes designed for one line ended up in some of the other collaborations. Some of the Butterick patterns are very similar to the JC Penney clothes. The early Butterick design above was also produced as a completed garment.
To a collector and complete label fanatic, this chart is incredibly helpful. The Quant labels have been confusing people (me) for years, but the V&A staff was able to match extant garments with dated material with the archive to come up with this lovely timeline. Because of this I was able to correct some errors in the VFG Label Resource, and to more correctly date the three Quant garments in my own collection.
People interested in the history and culture of the Sixties will want to read this one, as well as those of us who grew up in the Age of Quant. The only beef I have with the book is that as a catalog of the exhibition, it is not complete. I’ve seen so many Instagram photos of the exhibition that I know that much more was included than what we are shown in the book. I wish they had at least included a listing with thumbnail photos of the entire exhibition.
There’s still plenty of time to catch Mary Quant at the Victoria and Albert. It’s on until February 16, 2020.