V&A Opens Another Big Fashion Exhibition This Week

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 61 months ago

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Last Updated 02 April 2019

V&A Opens Another Big Fashion Exhibition This Week
Mary Quant and models at the Quant Afoot footwear collection launch, 1967 © PA Prints 2008. Image courtesy of V&A Museum

A retrospective exhibition about London fashion designer and icon Dame Mary Quant opens at the V&A this week.

Quant has become known as an iconic figure of 1960s London, synonymous with miniskirts and colourful tights. But her impact on the British fashion industry went deeper than that, as she harnessed new mass production techniques which revolutionised the high street and made fashion more accessible.

Satin mini-dress and shorts by Mary Quant, photograph by Duffy, 1966 © Duffy Archive. Image courtesy of the V&A Museum

The exhibition focuses on the years 1955-1975, beginning at the opening of Bazaar, her fashion boutique located on King's Road in Chelsea, and following her transformation into a wholesale fashion brand, both here and in America.

We're also promised a more personal look at Quant — a Blackheath local who studied at Goldsmiths — from collecting her OBE to the evolution of her rising hemlines.

The Mary Quant Beauty bus, 1971 © INTERFOTO Alamy Stock Photo. Image courtesy of V&A Museum

120 items of clothing feature in the show as well as accessories, cosmetics, sketches and photographs, most of which have never been on public display before. These include items from Dame Mary Quant’s Archive, as well as the V&A’s own extensive collection of Quant garments, and some donated by the public.

Mary Quant with Vidal Sassoon, photograph by Ronald Dumont, 1964 Ronald Dumont Stringer Getty Images. Image courtesy of V&A Museum

A very early and unlabelled blouse, a hat sold at Bazaar, and colourful PVC raincoats are some of the items that resulted from a public call-out last year, when the V&A asked people for Quant-designed garments they still had in their wardrobes. 35 items from 25 people are on display as a result, along with stories from the owners, and in some case, photos of them wearing them.

Model holding a Bazaar bag c.1959 (C) Mary Quant Archive. Image courtesy of V&A Museum

Jenny Lister, co-curator of Mary Quant at the V&A, said:

This long overdue exhibition will show how Mary Quant’s brand connected with her customers, how she made designer fashion affordable for working women, and how her youthful, revolutionary clothes, inspired by London’s creative scene, made British street style the global influence it remains today.

Mary Quant selecting fabric, 1967 (C) Rolls PressPopperfoto Getty Images. Image courtesy V&A Museum

Dame Mary Quant herself — who still lives in Blackheath, ages 89, said:

The V&A is such a precious and iconic organisation for which I have the utmost admiration and respect, and it is a huge honour to be recognised by them with this dedicated exhibition and book. I am enormously grateful to have been involved with so many talented people whose contribution to that ground-breaking, revolutionary and memorable era will also be recognised.

Mary Quant and Alexander Plunket Greene, photograph by John Cowan, 1960 Courtesy of Terence Pepper CollectionImage © John Cowan Archive

Of course, this isn't the only fashion exhibition on at the South Kensington museum right now. You may have heard of a certain Christian Dior exhibition which sold out its entire run within weeks of opening, earning it a two-month extension. It seems that fashion and the V&A make excellent bedfellows — a 2015 show dedicated to Alexander McQueen prompted the museum to stay open late to meet demand.

It's also worth noting that this isn't the only exhibition about Mary Quant in London at the moment. Swinging Sixties at the Fashion & Textile Museum focuses on Quant, her contemporary Terence Conran, and other members of their 'Chelsea Set'.

Mary Quant at V&A Museum, South Kensington, 6 April 2019-16 February 2020. Tickets are £12 and booking is recommended.