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Mary Quant at the V&A

5 April 2019 | Maisy Farren

The V&A is currently a vital visit for fashion lovers. Whilst Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams is a celebration of haute-couture and sheer glamour, the new Mary Quant exhibition is a celebration of pop-culture, style and gender equality. This is the first exhibition in 50-years to celebrate the iconic work of Dame Mary Quant, and displays over 120 of her original designs, as well as make-up, underwear and even her own brand of doll. Quant was a pioneer of the all-encompassing lifestyle brand, and this exhibition is a glorious celebration of that.


Image credit: V&A Press Office 

Spanning the most active 20-years of her career, the exhibition displays her work from 1955-1975. Through post-war adjustment to the swinging sixties and into the funky design-led 70s, the show begins with a piece from the centre of this time frame- 1966. The cream, wool mini dress that marks the beginning of the show is the dress Quant wore to accept her OBE, which puts into the forefront of your mind the importance of Quant’s contribution to British fashion. Following on chronologically from this, we follow Quant into the opening of her first store, Bazaar on Kings Road. Original pinafores, cocktail dresses and suits display the beginnings of Quant’s design work, classic pieces using increasingly modern shapes such as dropped waists and boxy cuts. Her shop on Kings Road became a hub of vibrancy and modernity in the late 50’s, utilising witty window displays, offering free drinks and staying open later than most shops, the store became a fashionable place to hang out for the emerging subcultures in London at the time. At this point Quant begins to branch out, creating the striking Bazaar logo and plastering it on bags, stationary and labels. Her attitude to fashion is to make it accessible, and her work is scooped up by women from all walks of life, meaning it a trendy household name in no time at all. 


Image credit: V&A Press Office 
 
Upstairs the celebration of fashion continues, including a striking collection of her famous mini-skirts at the top of a black and white staircase. The exhibition space features a stylish, monochrome design, with photos, and vintage Quant adverts lining the walls, as well as the occasional oversized Daisy print – the hallmark of her brand. Displayed in collections such as the PVC coats of 1963’s ‘Wet’ collection, the seminal Jersey dresses and her girlishly simple underwear designs, the pieces wouldn’t look out of place on the shelves of today’s high-street stores: a testament to her timeless contributions to design. Pieces are displayed on plain white mannequins, creating the feel of a retro shop-floor, all of which are sporting classic 60’s and 70’s hairdo’s, including a modern bob-cut just like Quants. 
 
The main focal point of the exhibition is a remarkable display of photos projected onto the central column. In June 2018, the V&A launched a call-out to the public to track down Quant fashion. This resulted in 1000s of responses, and whilst 35 rare pieces were borrowed for display, the unique and exciting outcome comes from the hundreds of photos and stories sent in by women about their favourite Quant garments. Black and white photos of women from young professionals to young mothers are displayed on the walls, which breathes life into the garments and reminds us that they were made by a woman, for women. This, I believe, is exactly what Quant set out to create. 

You can see this exhibition 6 April 2019 - 20 February 2020, and tickets are £12. For more information click here
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