The demure Peter Pan collars and teeny tiny skirts, wet-look plastic dresses and hot pants, see-through raincoats and paper patterns offering the dream of designer fashion at pocket-money prices will be celebrated in an exhibition at the V&A museum next year on the work of Dame Mary Quant, the designer whose name became synonymous with the swinging 60s.
Quant’s clothes made international headlines when they were worn by the supermodels of the day including Jean Shrimpton, Pattie Boyd, Cilla Black and Twiggy, and for many they ended the twinset-and-pearls era.
Although the V&A curator Jenny Lister will have the run of Quant’s archives and the V&A costume stores, which hold the largest collection of Quant designs in the world, she wants more.\
The public is being urged to turn out cupboards and attics for the Quant clothes they could never bear to throw away, and to submit photographs, films and memories of themselves wearing them, either by email ([email protected]) or social media (#WeWantQuant).
Lister said Quant’s creations were liberating. “Known for establishing high street fashion, inventing hot pants and popularising the miniskirt, she freed women from rules and regulations and from dressing like their mothers. This long-overdue exhibition will show how Mary made high fashion affordable for working women, and how her youthful, revolutionary clothes, inspired by London, made British streetstyle the global influence it remains today.”
Quant herself said she had been too busy to realise she was making history. “It was a wonderfully exciting time and despite the frenetic hard work we had enormous fun. We didn’t necessarily realise that what we were creating was pioneering, we were simply too busy relishing all the opportunities and embracing the results before rushing on to the next challenge.
“Friends have been extremely generous in loaning and, in many cases, donating garments and accessories to the V&A which they have lovingly cherished for many years, so it will be fascinating to see what else will emerge.”
The exhibition, which will open in April 2019, will have more than 200 garments on display, many for the first time, including one-off designs sold in Quant’s Bazaar boutiques from 1955.
Quant was born in London but both her parents came from Welsh mining families. After studying illustration at Goldsmith’s art college, she was apprenticed to a milliner, before she opened her first shop on Kings Road in Chelsea to sell her own designs and other clothing aimed exclusively at a young market.
She has been credited with inventing the miniskirt, but she has said that although she named it – after her favourite car (Mini later repaid the honour by designing a limited-edition model in her honour) – it was invented by young women on Kings Road wearing ever shorter skirts and demanding them in her boutique.
Brilliantly coloured and patterned tights and stockings, clothes in experimental new materials such as PVC, trouser suits and hot pants, makeup and homeware followed, along with international manufacturing and retail partnerships. She was awarded an OBE in 1966 and made a dame in the 2015 New Year honours for her services to British fashion.
Lister said: “We want to hear from women who wore Mary’s radical designs and experienced the appeal of the Mary Quant brand at first-hand. To help us tell these incredible stories, we are asking people to check attics, cupboards, as well as family photo albums, for the chance to feature in our exhibition.”