Mary Quant | British Fashion Designer & Icon | Obituary

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Obituary – Mary Quant – British Fashion Designer & Icon

10th November 1964: Clothes designer Mary Quant, one of the leading lights of the British fashion scene in the 1960’s, having her hair cut by another fashion icon, hairdresser Vidal Sassoon. (Photo by Ronald Dumont/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Mary Quant, the British designer who made the miniskirt fashionable, has died aged 93.

A statement from her family to the PA news agency said she “died peacefully at home in Surrey, UK this morning”.

Her family said she “was one of the most internationally recognised fashion designers of the 20th century and an outstanding innovator of the Swinging Sixties”.

  • Died: April 13th, 2023
  • Details of death: died peacefully at home aged 93.

Early Life

Quant was born on 11 February 1930, in Blackheath, London, the daughter of Welsh teachers. Her parents, Jack and Mildred Quant, 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.

Quant went to Blackheath High School. For college, her desire had been to study fashion; however, her parents dissuaded her from that course of study, and she instead studied illustration and art education at Goldsmiths College for which she received a degree in 1953. In pursuit of her love for fashion, after finishing her degree, she was apprenticed to Erik Braagaard, a high-end Mayfair milliner on Brook Street next door to Claridge’s hotel.

Fashion Career

Quant initially sold clothing sourced from wholesalers in her new boutique in the Kings Road named Bazaar. The bolder and more unique pieces in her collection started garnering more attention from media like Harper’s Bazaar, and an American manufacturer purchased some of her dress designs. Because of this attention and her personal love for these bolder styles, she decided to take designs into her own hands. Initially working solo, she was soon employing a handful of machinists; by 1966 she was working with a total of 18 manufacturers. A self-taught designer inspired by the culture-forward “Chelsea Set” of artists and socialites, Quant’s designs were riskier and more unique than standard styles of the time. Quant’s designs revolutionized fashion from the utilitarian wartime standard of the late 1940s to the energy of the 1950s and 1960s’ cultural shifts. She stocked her own original items in an array of colours and patterns, such as colourful tights.

Quant’s impact did not just come from her unique designs; in her boutique she created a special environment, including music, drinks, and long hours that appealed to young adults. This environment was unique for the industry, as it differentiated from the stale department stores and inaccessible high-end designer store environments that had a hold of the fashion market. Her window displays with models in quirky poses brought a lot of attention to her boutique, where people would often stop to stare at the eccentric displays. She stated that … “Within 10 days, we hardly had a piece of the original merchandise left.”

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.

In 1966, Quant was named one of the “fashion revolutionaries” in New York by Women’s Wear Daily, alongside Edie Sedgwick, Tiger Morse, Pierre Cardin, Paco Rabanne, Rudi Gernreich, André Courrèges, Emanuel Ungaro, Yves Saint Laurent, and Baby Jane Holzer.

The Miniskirt

The miniskirt, described as one of the defining fashions of the 1960s, is one of the garments most widely associated with Quant. Skirts had been getting shorter since the 1950s, and had reached the knee by the early sixties, but “Quant wanted them higher so they would be less restricting –they allowed women to run for a bus– …and were much, much sexier”.

Quant later said: “It was the girls on the King’s Road [during the “Swinging London” scene] who invented the miniskirt. 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.” The fashion model Twiggy would popularise the miniskirt abroad.

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.

Later Career

In the late 1960s, Quant offered short shorts that were the forerunner of hotpants and became a British fashion icon. In 1967 she designed berets in twelve colours for British headwear company Kangol. Quant’s berets, featuring her daisy logo, are in her collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Through the 1970s and 1980s she concentrated on household goods and make-up rather than just her clothing lines, including the duvet, which she claimed 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 UK 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.

In 2000, she resigned as director of Mary Quant Ltd, her cosmetics company, after a Japanese buy-out. There are more than 200 Mary Quant Colour shops in Japan.

Personal Life and Death

Quant met her future husband and business partner, Alexander Plunket Greene, grandson of the Irish singer Harry Plunket Greene, in 1953. They were married from 1957 until his death in 1990, and had a son, Orlando, born in 1969.

Quant died at her home in Surrey on 13 April 2023, at the age of 93.

 

Date of birth: 11th February 1930

Date of Death: 13th April 2023 (aged 93)

 

Sources:

Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Quant

The Guardian – https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2023/apr/13/fashion-designer-dame-mary-quant-dies