Thursday, September 21, 2023
Thursday, September 21, 2023
Home » Fashion Designer Dame Mary Quant, Whose Miniskirts Dominated Swinging London, Dies Aged 93

Fashion Designer Dame Mary Quant, Whose Miniskirts Dominated Swinging London, Dies Aged 93

by Ariana Hopkins
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Mary Quant, the visionary fashion designer whose colourful, sexy miniskirts epitomised swinging London in the 1960s and influenced youth culture around the world, has died, aged 93.

Key points:

  • Mary Quant died peacefully at her Surrey home
  • She is credited by many as the inventor of the miniskirt
  • Her designs were worn by the likes of Twiggy, Pattie Boyd and John Lennon

Quant’s family said she died “peacefully at home” in Surrey, southern England, on Thursday.

Quant helped popularise the miniskirt — some credit her with inventing it — and the innovative tights that went along with it, creating dresses and accessories that were an integral part of the look.

She created mix-and-match, simple garments that had an element of whimsy. Some compared her impact on the fashion world to the Beatles’ impact on pop music.

Her clothes became wildly popular and were worn by models like Twiggy and Pattie Boyd, who was then married to Beatles guitarist George Harrison.

A group of models wearing bright yellow and red designer clothing
Mary Quant, foreground centre, often modelled her own designs. (AP: PA Wire/PA)

Born February 11, 1930, the daughter of schoolteachers, Quant studied art education at Goldsmith’s College in London before moving into the fashion field, first working as an apprentice to a hat-maker.

With the help of her husband and business partner, Alexander Plunket Greene, and the accountant Archie McNair, she opened Bazaar in Chelsea in 1955, and at first relied on innovative window displays to bring in younger customers.

The shop was such a success that she soon moved into other parts of London and began exporting her clothes to the United States, where the “British invasion” was in full swing.

black and white image of a man and a woman sitting on chairs looking at each other
John Lennon, pictured with his then-wife Cynthia, wearing the 15 guinea Mary Quant hat.(Getty: Keystone)

“Snobbery has gone out of fashion, and in our shops you will find duchesses jostling with typists to buy the same dress,” Quant once said.

She called the store “a sophisticated candy store for grown-ups.”

She was unusual in that she often modelled her own clothes, appearing naturally confident in her own fashions, usually with her hair styled in a distinctive, angular bob by hairdresser Vidal Sassoon.

Former British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman described Quant as “a visionary who was much more than a great haircut.”

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International New York Times fashion director Vanessa Friedman said Quant had “freed the female leg.” 

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The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which hosted a Mary Quant exhibit from 2019-2020, said fashion owed so much to Quant in a tweet. 

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“It’s impossible to overstate Quant’s contribution to fashion,” the post read.

“She represented the joyful freedom of 1960s fashion, and provided a new role model for young women.”

The Mary Quant exhibit went on to show in Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and Japan.

Miniskirts an instant hit with the youth

Models wearing bright coloured designs in front of a wallpaper background with flowers
Quant used a variety of materials and colours to make miniskirts popular.(Getty: PA Images)

Quant was perfectly positioned to capitalise on the “youthquake” that took hold in the 1960s. She sensed the days of the exclusive salons were numbered, and thought even the great Parisian designers would follow ready-to-wear trends.

The look she created was sexy and fun, a sharp break with the predictable floral day dresses commonly worn after the war, when tight household budgets meant there was little disposable income.

Quant introduced miniskirts, with hemlines up to eight inches above the knee, to the London scene in 1966 and they were an instant hit with young people — in part because they shocked and offended many.

A black and white image of a woman holding rolls of fabric
Mary Quant was also credited with introducing hot pants and micro-minis to the fashion scene.(AP: D Royle)

While some insist she first developed the style, many also credit French designer Andre Courreges, whose 1964 spring collection included mini dresses. Others cite the short skirts worn by actress Anne Francis in the 1956 film Forbidden Planet as the first example of the miniskirt.

Whether or not she was the first to design them, there is no doubt that it was Quant who figured out how to market the miniskirt to the masses.

Quant, who named the skirt after her favourite make of car, recalled how it offered a “feeling of freedom and liberation.” From her shop on King’s Road in London’s Chelsea neighbourhood, she took part in a clothing revolution.

Three women with bobs in front of a car, the one in the centre holding a poster
Mary Quant named the iconic skirts after her favourite car. (AP: David Parry/PA)

“It was the girls on King’s Road who invented the mini. I was making clothes which would let you run and dance and we would make them the length the customer wanted,” she said.

“I wore them very short and the customers would say, ‘shorter, shorter’.”

Quant used a variety of materials and colours to make miniskirts popular with young women on a limited budget.

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She was also credited with introducing hot pants and micro-minis to the fashion scene in the late 1960s.

She was made an Officer of the British Empire for service to the fashion industry in 1966, wearing a trademark miniskirt when she received the honour at Buckingham Palace. In 2014, she was made a dame for services to British fashion.

Quant stepped down from the day-to-day management of her firm, Mary Quant Ltd, in 2000 after it was purchased by a Japanese company, but kept working as a consultant.

The firm continued to use the daisy motif and logo that Quant pioneered in the 1960s, and it maintained one shop in London in addition to roughly 200 shops in Japan.

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