There’s something about Mary…
How many creatives can match the career of such a designer, fashionista and artist as Mary Quant?
Right from the beginning of her career, Quant’s playful, innovative designs filled a gap in the marketplace in a way that no others could. For once, the taste of contemporary youth was being championed, with Quant blazing a trail for not only fashion houses but modern art itself. Claiming recognition for the promulgation of the miniskirt and hotpants, Mary Quant’s bright tights, big city approach left her competition standing.
Following qualifying as an Illustrator at Goldsmiths, Quant went on to work as a Milliner for Erik – a high-end, Mayfair store next to Claridge’s. She opened her first store in 1955 with new husband and business partner, Alexander Plunket Greene, along with Archie McNair (a former solicitor turned photographer). From there the only way was up, with Terence Conran becoming involved in their next store – Bazaar (1957). These fashion stores became the mouthpiece for Quant’s own designs when she realised – via her appearance in Harper’s Bazaar – that they were a more lucrative and authentic business model than buying in stock.
Throughout the 60s, Quant rapidly became a global fashion commodity, striking deals with J.C. Penney in The States and then finding herself in demand across the world. In 1963, her response to this overwhelming clamour was to establish The Ginger Group – giving a wholesale option to her designs and instigating global production. Then in 1966, Mary Quant went on to launch her make-up line, giving her already-flourishing business another popular revenue stream.
The industry’s response to such global domination was immediate and resounding. Throughout the 1960s alone, she received 8 notable honours:-
- Sunday Times International Award Winner (1963)
- Voted Woman of the Year (1963)
- Maison Branch Rex Award Winner (1964)
- Given an OBE by Queen Elizabeth II (1966)
- Piavla d’Ora Award Winner (1966)
- Made a Fellow of the Society of Industrial Artists (wins the society’s design award) (1967)
- Named a Royal Designer for Industry
- Inducted into the British Fashion Council Hall of Fame.
During the 1970s, Mary Quant’s position as the doyenne of global fashion design is exalted when she cements trade links between Britain and Japan, and also The US. Although she is not yet 40, the BBC broadcast a biographical film short on her achievements entitled ‘Life of Mary Quant’; and the London Museum showcase an exhibition dedicated to her works.
Despite her first autobiography being published in 1966 (‘Quant by Quant’), it is during the 1980s that the designer really recognises the value of establishing herself as a literary subject in order to proliferate her design views. Her strong ideas about colour are immortalised in print via 3 publications in particular. ‘Colour by Quant’; ‘Quant on Make-Up’; and ‘Quant on Make-Up’ (Japanese Edition) are all written by Mary herself, with the latter consolidating her love affair with the Far East. Her interiors collection – ‘Mary Quant at Home’ – is launched at this time, and Mary’s designs find their way in to homes across the world. Quant’s own innovative idea (the duvet) becomes a household staple, along with her monochrome Mini 1000 design speeding its way across global city infrastructures.
In her latter years, Mary Quant has been nominated for ever more accolades, seeming only to increase in kudos. From being selected as an honorary member of the Royal College of Arts, to being nominated Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her services to the Fashion Industry, Quant’s star is only ever on the rise. In 2006, her academic prowess was heightened with the receipt of an honorary doctorate from Heriot-Watt University, and she was awarded the highest prize of all when she was named winner of the Minerva Medal – the Chartered Society of Designers’ most coveted accolade.
Her make-up tips and tricks were ultimately immortalised in print in her ‘Classic Make-Up and Beauty Book’ (1996) – a must-have for anyone contemplating a career in the industry – plus her second autobiography (‘Mary Quant’) was published (2012). During that same year, she received an unusual but welcome form of recognition by being included by artist Sir Peter Blake in his re-imagining of The Beatles Sgt Pepper album cover.
A career with such a trajectory is almost impossible to match, and where Mary succeeded, many have failed. Mary Quant – The Fashion Icon – is cemented as a cornerstone of British design history and global trade diplomacy. There will never again be another like her…
[Credits: Feature image – Mary Quant (theredlist.com); chatterbusy.blogspot.com; pinterest.com; altheomagazine.blogspot.com;