HER SWINGIN' '60s CREDENTIALS: Technically she's not a model, but if you ever wore a miniskirt, or if you ever admired someone who was wearing one, thank Mary Quant; shes the British fashion designer who made the mini the decades defining fashion statement.
CATEGORIES OF SWINGIN' CHICK: Model (well, a designer)
BIRTH: She was born in '34, so she hit the decade at 26. Her exotic birthplace: Kent, England.
IMPACT ON THE '60s: Fab and fun, the fashions of the '60s were the products of a determined revolution. In the '50s, young people had dressed in slightly modified versions of the conservative clothes their parents owned: Pop singers wore gowns, actresses wore gloves, and the most daring thing a guy could wear was a T-shirt, a la Brando and Dean. But then came the '60s and a revolution not just in the clothes, but also in the people who created them. A new breed of fashion designers, inspired by the energy in the streets, drawing on influences from Op and Pop Art, and watching the triumphs of the space age, invented styles that were more daring, more colorful, and more exciting than ever before. The revolutions catalyst was Mary Quant. She was the hippest designer in the hippest area of the world, the unrivaled Queen of Swingin London, and she was perfectly in sync with the spirit of her times. Wrote Londons Sunday Times, "It is given to a fortunate few to be born at the right time, in the right place, with the right talents. In recent fashion, there are three: Chanel, Dior and Mary Quant." Sparked by her design innovations, '60s fashions exploded in bursts of crazy new colors, prints, and fabrics. Soon came other designers who introduced big geometric patterns, vibrant shades of purple and chartreuse, dresses made of shiny vinyl, or cellophane, or paper, dresses with pieces cut out, dresses made of metal or covered with mirrors, two-piece pantsuits, fur vests, go-go boots, prints from India, micro-mini skirts, midi skirts, maxi skirts, ruffled shirts, nehru jackets, sharp Sassoon cuts, and enormous bellbottoms to the new vocabulary. As she explained in A.E. Hotchner's Blown Away: The Rolling Stones and the Death of the Sixties:
"I think that I broke the couture stranglehold that Chanel, Dior and the others had on fashion, when I created styles at the working-girl level. It all added up to a democratization of fashion and entertainment. ... It was very gratifying to see that not only did the mods of the sixties want my clothes, but so did the grandees and the millionaires. They had everything else ... but they hadn't any fun clothes. ... Snobbery went out of fashion, and in the shops you found duchesses jostling with typists to buy the same dresses. Fashion had become the great leveler."
CAREER IN THE '60s: For nearly the entire decade, Mary was at ground zero of the fashion explosion that rocked the world. Even at the decade's end Mary kept inventing, kept igniting others with her ideas, and she even dropped another bombshell into the fashion world in '69 hot pants, which did for shorts what her minis did for skirts. How fun! How creative! How '60s!
CAREER OUTSIDE THE '60s: After graduating from art school, 21-year-old Mary opened up Bazaar, a stylish new clothing shop in London in '55. Catering to urban youth, she filled the shop with the exciting new clothes being worn by rock n rollers the bell bottoms, the bright patterns, and especially the thigh-climbing skirts. When she couldnt find the creative clothes she wanted, she started designing them herself. Her shop was an instant success and quickly drew a celebrity crowd of Beatles and movie stars. She'd keep the shop open late, and people would strip and try on clothes out in the open.
"Good designers know that to have any influence they must keep in step with public needs and that intangible 'something in the air.' They must catch the spirit of the day and interpret it in clothes before other designers begin to twitch at the nerve ends," she said in Blown Away; "I just happened to start when that something in the air was coming to a boil. The clothes I made happened to fit in exactly with the teenage trend, with pop records and espresso bars and jazz clubs."
Later she brought her touch to hosiery and home linens and skin care products. She also wrote several books, among them her autobiography, Quant by Quant in '66, followed by Color by Quant, The Ultimate Make-up and Beauty Book, Classic Make-up and Beauty, and Mary Quants Daisy Chain of Things to Make and Do. Today her Colour Concepts boutiques, which showcase her color-saturated make-up, are located in world capitals like Paris, New York, and Tokyo. And Mary herself is still working in London, with jewelry and umbrellas and bags and socks among her latest creations. The '60s may be over, but the revolution lives on.
TALENT: Some sources credit French designer Andre Courreges with actually inventing the miniskirt ahead of Mary. That may or may not be true, but Marys definitely the one who brought the style to the masses by keeping prices affordable (J.C. Penney carried her designs as early as '62)and by keeping the styles whimsical. By '66, everyone wanted to wear her clothes, because all their heroes did: Brigitte Bardot and Nancy Sinatra were just two of her famous customers, and when George Harrison married model Pattie Boyd in the winter of '66, they were both wearing clothes designed by Mary Quant. And fans could see her clothes on the silver screen, because Mary designed the costumes for several popular films, including the Oscar-nominated Georgy Girl in '66 and Audrey Hepburns Two for the Road in '67.
HER '60s LOOK: Unlike previous fashion designers who were usually much older than the models who wore their clothes, Mary Quant was of the same generation as her clientele. This meant that Mary, who was petite and pretty with short, dark hair, could convincingly wear the new precision haircuts and the bold new eye shadows that all the models, celebrities, and stars were wearing. David Bailey, the decades most famous photographer, wasnt just taking photos of Mary's models, including Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, in Marys dresses, he was also taking photos of Mary herself. Though shes best known for the mini, her legacy is more than a single garment its an entire style known as the London Look, which by mid-decade meant clothes with simple lines, short/shorter/shortest skirts, bold colors, and flats. Photos of Mary in the 60s show her with the same short hair, the same short skirts, and the same tights and boots and blouses and eye shadow as any of her marvelous models. She's an expert on the subject of clothes and clothes history, of course: "I grew up making my own clothes because I didn't like clothes the way they were," she explained in Blown Away, "I had a very strong idea of how I wanted to look. An innocent, child look -- that's what it was." She started making her own clothes "at the ludicrous age of five or six," she added. In her teens the clothes she created were designed "for people like myself -- skinny sweaters, black leotards, black patent leather shoes or tap-dancing shoes with white ankle socks -- that getup transfixed me. I was struck by the drama of dressing like that," she said in Blown Away.
LIFESTYLE: Little is known about the private Mary, but when she opened Bazaar in '55, her partner was Alexander Plunket-Greene, who later became her husband.
EXTRAS: When the Queen awarded Mary the Order of the British
Empire (O.B.E.) in '66, Mary accepted while wearing a miniskirt
woman," Mary once said, "is as young as her knees"
results of Marys mini-revolution: the inventions of pantyhose and the maxi-coat (to
keep those suddenly exposed legs warm)
Mary knows a good revolution when she sees