Mary Quant At V&A: Punchy Exhibition Delves Into The Legacy Of A Fashion Pioneer

Mary Quant, V&A ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 8 months ago
Mary Quant At V&A: Punchy Exhibition Delves Into The Legacy Of A Fashion Pioneer Mary Quant, V&A 4
Image courtesy V&A

V&A has opened a major exhibition on fashion legend Mary Quant, but can it compare to the museum's other current fashion blockbuster — the massively popular Dior?

Miniskirts, tights and waterproof mascara are all taken for granted by modern British women, but it's thanks to Mary Quant that they became so popular. Quant is the designer who made fashion accessible to the working woman, and is synonymous with the Swinging London of the 1960s.

The whole point of fashion is to make fashionable clothes available to everyone.

Image courtesy V&A.

The show charts the life of a driven young woman who grew up in Blackheath and was always adventurous in her designs. There's as much variety in her early clothing as there is in her later career, proving she was willing to take risks even when the financial returns were far from guaranteed.

Quant is perhaps best-known for her subversive streak. She would take a functional and drab item such as a butcher's apron and use it as inspiration to create an elegant outfit styled in dark blue with white pinstripes. Quant wasn't one for gender norms either, creating outfits for women styled on men's fashion, incorporating ties and waistcoats. Women wearing trousers today doesn't raise any eyebrows but in the 1960s women often wouldn't be allowed into restaurants unless they were in a dress or a skirt — by borrowing ideas from men's ranges, Quant proved herself a punchy pioneer.

Menswear was subverted to make outfits for women. Image courtesy V&A.

This is a bold and colourful fashion exhibition, but is it as good as Dior — which we gave the full five stars? The short answer is no. Dior broke the mould, entrancing visitors with room after room of beautiful objects, and appealing even to those with little interest in fashion.

That said, Quant is a very impressive exhibition and fashion fans will want to make sure they pay it a visit.  Plus the tickets are easier to get, half the price and the show runs for a lot longer. So there's plenty of time to fill your brightly-coloured boots.

Image courtesy V&A.

Mary Quant is at V&A until 16 February 2020. Tickets are £12 for adults.

Last Updated 08 April 2019