Mary Quant at the V&A

Mum and I loved our exploring the Dior exhibition at the V&A earlier in the year and therefore we decided to pre-book the Mary Quant showcase. 


Whenever I think of Mary Quant, I almost solely think of the mini skirt, which I would possibly say she is best known for and popularised by the era’s most profitable model, Twiggy. Therefore I assumed that a large majority of the exhibition would be focused upon this, but I was very wrong. Trousers were similarly a large part of the story, turning them into admirable fashionable womenswear. A two hundred piece diverse collection of garments and accessories were displayed, showing the versatility of the designer and also included previously unseen pieces from the designer's personal archive.


There was everything from the expected miniskirts and hot pants to vibrant tights and makeup, exploring how Mary Quant launched a fashion revolution on the British high street. Her playful and colourful designs are a reaction against the austerity and drabness of postwar London and furthermore shifted the conventional attitude of the fashion industry and society in general. 


The exhibition was across two floors which were filled with bright white lighting and clean display backgrounds, only with a completing colour shape or monochrome image behind. The prominence of the bright white setting allowed the pieces to be the main focus with little distraction, forcing them to speak for themselves, and created a greater contrast between the white and the bold colour combinations of the garments.


On the upper floor there was a large, brightly lit circular podium, showcasing a carousel moving black and white visual collection of memories of Quant and her designs worn by individuals at the time. This not only helped to set the scene and time period and further juxtaposed the playful garments; it also complemented the great circular details hovering below the domed ceiling. The circles housed the spotlights and reinforced the contemporary nature of the designer.


The exhibition was not as large as the Dior one, however I do think it was compatible in terms of the quality of display, storytelling and highlighting the most prominent pieces - it was equally as impressive in my opinion.


One of my favourite display cabinets was possibly the Jersey Dress section with all of the garments demonstrating free-flowing feminine lines that complement a womenly shape. Instead of a formal and structured aesthetic that would have been prominent at the time these pieces showed Quant’s desire to move fashion towards a more relaxed silhouette suitable for everyday life. She really pushed boundaries to make coordinated loungewear be seen on the street, rather than simply in the home. The matching tights with outfits demonstrated a body of block colour which is why I loved this collection of garments so much - they all had minimal detail, however the pops of colour of the clothes and/or contrasting colours of the accessories, really added interest and impact. They were just vibrant, fun and diffused a sense of positivity and energy. 


Although very simple, my most loved piece was named, ‘Brands Hatch’, 1966. The model supported a burgundy polo-neck jumper with a dungarees-style checked pattern across the whole garment. The look is extremely minimal but is something I would certainly wear today without the slightest hesitation. The understated nature and crisp lines really appeal to me and again shows the loose and free aesthetic which is perfect for everyday comfort and flexibility. 


I did not realise that Quant was a self-taught designer before attending the exhibition. This made all of her fresh and unique looks even more impressive and demonstrated her passion and dedication. I was likewise very surprised by her diverse legacy and range of collections. 


The extensive display illustrated Quants influence on the fashion industry, especially across the 60s and 70s. She admirably shifted fashion from the establishment to youth with sharp tailoring, clean outlines and sportswear. They were all strikingly modern in their simplicity and were very wearable.


I really liked how, unlike other exhibitions that I have seen, there is huge focus on the women who wore these designs, rather than simply focusing on the couture. Quant is very much about egalitarian and democratic fashion and this was evident across every element, no matter what year. 


I noticed several themes across the showcase, including rebellion and youth and energetic fashion, creating a great sense of female empowerment. It reminded me how fun and playful fashion can be when one doesn’t try to fit social constraints. She made fashion accessible and affordable and her designs were so progressive regarding the transformation of the retail experience and attitude towards women at the time. 


FashionRachel Fox