Playful cheek and effortless chic – Mary Quant, V&A Museum, April 2019

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Mary Quant runs from 6 April 2019 – 16 February 2020

So I am never going to be a ‘fashionista’ that much is clear to me. I don’t have the style, the money, the time or the elegance to carry that off. I used to use my kids as an excuse, you know, there is no point wearing anything nice because you just get sticky fingerprints all over it. Well it has to be at least 6 years since the youngest has been feeding himself. Time to own up to the fact I am just messy. I don’t deserve nice things.

I wore black jeans out yesterday, had a nice pub lunch with my Dad and left with squashed garlic mash all down my left leg (and I don’t even know how that happened). Don’t even let me go near anything white, I am a disaster waiting to happen.

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Here come the miniskirts…

Whilst I am never going to be a Dior lady, Mary Quant is 100% a woman I can get behind. It is rare for me to get an invite to a V&A preview but for Mary Quant I just had to ask. The V&A’s first international retrospective of Dame Mary Quant opens on 6th April. It focuses on the period from 1955-75 when Quant revolutionised post-war London bringing new clothes for a new tomorrow.

With over 120 garments and accessories the exhibition follows Quant’s career and success from her shop, ‘Bazaar’, to inroads overseas with a collaboration with American chainstore JC Penney.

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Quant for every occasion.
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‘X-Certificate’ 1969. Wet-look catsuit with jeans-style top-stitching and matching fly-cap.

Quant is the face of her designs, of her brand, from fantastic film clips to full page journal advertising, she isn’t just selling clothes. She is selling a cool vibe, selling sex, independence, and fun. At times playful cheek, at other times effortless chic.

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Quant harnessed the youthful spirit of the 60s.

What really sets this exhibition apart for me is the personal stories attached to many of the outfits. The V&A put a call out for vintage Mary Quant outfits in 2018 hidden in the back of wardrobes. They had over 1,000 responses and took 35 donations from 30 owners to build the heart of the exhibition.

We hear from Pauline O’Shea who brought her Quant dress from Debenham & Freebody in 1964 as a special treat for her 21st birthday. An expensive purchase at 19 guineas (about £418 today), she loved wearing it to parties and it was later worn by her daughter.

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‘Georgie’ – striped wrap-dress 1962. The style was also available as ‘Rosie’ in a more formal silk chiffon lined with taffeta.

There is ‘Georgie’, a beautiful striped wrap dress from 1962. Bought by Sarah Robinson from a shop called ‘Elizabeth’ local to her in Truro, Cornwall, that specialised in the ‘latest from London’ at 12 and a half guineas (about £264 today).

My absolute favourite is a quote from Barber Kimber, an executive assistant living in Bristol in 1967 who bought her dress from ‘Bazaar’ in Knightsbridge to make a good impression when meeting her husband’s sister-in-law for the first time. It became her ‘go to’ dress, never before having ‘had a dress that made her feel so good’.

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Quant was famous for her ‘miniskirts’, attracting outrage from the older generation.

I love this, it is so utterly relatable, don’t we all have a ‘go to’ outfit to impress, or to feel good in. Whilst the curation of the exhibition is excellent and can highlight Quant’s role as a rule breaker with her miniskirts and use of men’s fashion. it is these insights into real women’s lives, what wearing a Quant dress meant to them, that really shows Quant’s power.

Why I love Quant is that while some dresses seemed to be out of reach to cash strapped youngsters there was always the option of making your own Quant dress. For fans of the ‘Great British Sewing Bee’ which has just seen a climatic finale on BBC Two, who can not fail to be impressed at Sheila Hopes hand-made ‘Miss Muffet’ dress that she made for her 21st birthday in 1964.

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Mary Quant signed a deal with Butterick to make sewing patterns.
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‘Miss Muffet’ made and worn by Shelia Hope. 1964.

“This dress is my prized possession”.

I love it. Whilst you may not think fashion is your thing I can’t help think there is so much to enjoy here.

The clothes ooze a London Swinging 60s vibe, the exhibition highlights the power of brand building and truly celebrates a British success story. The only thing I miss is a swinging soundtrack to lose myself in.

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Waistcoat and Tie Dress, 1962. This ensemble features a number of familiar masculine motifs that Quant consistently returned to in her designs.

I am jealous of so many beautiful dresses, completely of their period and yet utterly timeless. I would love to walk out the door wearing a number of them and maybe I would become a fashionista at last.

Whilst dressing in Dior may be the woman you aspire to be, just out of reach, Mary Quant is the woman you can be. More than fabric, stitches, bold prints and bright colours, Quant sells a better life, more fun, more in control and more self aware. It is a message that is as fresh today as it was in the 1960s.

So ditch Dior and head to Quant, at half the price I guarantee you twice the fun.

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Mary Quant opens at the V&A Museum on Saturday 6 April 2019 and runs to 16th February 2020.

For ticket prices and opening times please see the website – https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/mary-quant

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