Countdown to Quant!

November 2, 2018

In June we shared the news that the iconic 1960s fashion designer Mary Quant will be the subject of a major exhibition at the V&A, opening in April 2019. This will be the first international retrospective on Quant in nearly 50 years, revealing the true stories behind the ‘swinging sixties’ scene, and exploring how Quant democratised fashion, blazing a trail on the British high-street with her unique personal style.

Satin mini-dress and shorts by Mary Quant, photograph by Duffy, 1966 © Duffy Archive

The V&A has the largest collection of Quant garments in the world, but we had some gaps to fill in order to fully celebrate her remarkable contribution to global style. So we launched the #WeWantQuant campaign, a public call-out to locate rare and missing garments by Quant, and collect personal stories and memories from real people who wore her clothes.

We asked you to rummage through your attics, wardrobes and photo-albums, to unearth not just surviving Quant clothing, but snapshots and memories too. And with over 800 replies so far, the response has been overwhelming.

We’ve heard from women who got married in Quant, and travelled the world in their Mary Quant rain macs, women who hand-stitched their own outfits from Mary Quant paper patterns – even those who worked alongside Mary Quant, as pattern cutters, retailers and models. These stories are helping us to chart the impact and influence of one of Britain’s best-loved fashion designers; to Quantify just what Mary’s ground-breaking, playful fashions meant to the people who wore them.

We’re very excited to share with you below a sneak preview of this previously unseen material, due be displayed in the exhibition for the first time. Eighteen of the garments have been acquired for the V&A’s permanent fashion collection, while a digital display of the wonderful photographs, insights and anecdotes gathered through the campaign will also feature, both in the exhibition and on our website.

Tereska Peppe, wearing a Reed Crawford hat and Mary Quant dress, 1960 © Mark Peppe
Minidress with ‘Peter Pan’ collar, Mary Quant’s Ginger Group, 1966, England. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Given by Deborah Cherry

Minidress with ‘Peter Pan’ collar. Given by Deborah Cherry

By 1966 very short skirts had taken hold and the hemline of this mod-style minidress – a signature style for Quant – sits at a good 10 cm above the knee. The ‘Peter Pan’ collar, patch pocket, and romper-suit effect demonstrate Quant’s affection for youth and fun in grown-up fashion. The dress is designed to be worn with flat shoes; its comfortable, sporty silhouette enabled free movement and was a complete contrast to the waisted, high-heeled fashions of the 1950s.

Culottes dress. Lent by Nanna Bjornsdottir

This vibrant evening dress reflects the evolution of Quant’s style in the 1970s, as fashion trends swung back towards eclectic pattern. It was worn by Nanna Bjornsdottir who worked as a model for Mary Quant’s cosmetics range. Nanna wore the dress for special occasions, before passing it on to her daughters, who wore it for parties too.

Culottes dress, Mary Quant’s Ginger Group, England, about 1970. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Lent by Nanna Bjornsdottir
Liberty print ‘Miss Muffet’ dress, designed by Mary Quant for Buttericks, made by Sheila Hope, 1964. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Lent by Sheila Hope

Liberty print ‘Miss Muffet’ dress. Made by Sheila Hope from a paper pattern.

In 1964 Mary Quant adapted a series of her designs for the American home dressmaking company Buttericks, who produced affordable paper sewing patterns. This example was homemade from a Mary Quant ‘Miss Muffit’ pattern, by Sheila Hope for her 21st birthday. Sheila chose a striking printed fabric from the well-known London department store Liberty.

On behalf of myself and my Co-curator, Jenny Lister, we’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who got in touch with us. Our object list is now closed, but we’d still love to hear from you if you have a Quant story or memory to share. Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #WeWantQuant, and look out for tickets going on sale from 11am on 15 November!

Mary Quant

Find out more about this major exhibition opening 6 April 2019
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