Ahead of its time: Mary Quant at the V&A

It’s been 46 years since Mary Quant’s archive of designs have been exhibited before the V&A opened its doors early last month and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I certainly didn’t anticipate how powerful the era of the 60s were and the impact it’s made to fashion as we see it today. Forever being a fan of Mary Quant and the Mod scene from an early teen, a time when I used to think it was just about teaming a Fred Perry with a miniskirt and going to gigs on a school night, I couldn’t wait to see an archive of cool clothes that I could only wish lived in my wardrobe. However, I didn’t just come away from seeing cool designs, I came away with knowing how much Quant impacted Britain from 1955 up until 1975.

Quant’s designs are very much known for being ahead of their time, some might even say futuristic, but I didn’t realise how right these statements I’d been hearing were. Bazaar, Mary Quants store, opened its doors just one year after post war rationing ended and it was clear from walking around the V&A space that London was at a time of need, a time for change. While peering into the class caged fits, I fell in love with an array of boxy jersey dresses, tight fitting catsuits and Parisian chic loungewear and it occurred to me that her designs were an answer to the austerity and coldness of post-war London.

While walking around the exhibition, I couldn’t help but overhear parties of women (who were no doubt teens during the ‘mini skirt era’) continuously point at displays and comment on how they remember wearing that style of fit or even just remembering their parents not letting them wear certain things. Before Quant, women didn’t have much say in the way they dressed. It was common for girls to dress like children and for women to dress like mothers, there was no ‘in between’ and women weren’t able to experiment with fashion throughout their teenage years. So, when Quant came along, she broke away from the conservative tea shaped synched dress designs, ironically led by Christian Dior at the time, and instead brought masculine fits matched with school girl playfulness to the table.

Londoners, and soon the world, became obsessed with Quant’s Pop Art influence. The space explores her legacy and as well as her commonly known wardrobe capsule, she soon expanded into underwear, cosmetics, home furnishings and even Daisy doll toys. Seeing how her designs have impacted the fashion industry today is admirable to say the least, her collections, such as the Wet collection, which is full of head-to-toe PVC garments, could be seen in a high street shop window today.

Head to the V&A before February 2020 to see how Quant Defined the youth-led spirit of the 1960s.

-Eden Charkani