The Oxeye: Mary Quant Exhibit
The mark of a white daisy
I was today years old when I learned that there was more to Mary Quant than miniskirts and a few boyish designs for Twiggy. When my fashion class introduced Quant briefly, I had interpreted her styles as a precursor to fast fashion. I thought she designed cheap pieces, for the everyday young woman who didn’t want to dress in a mature fashion. However, Quant’s design niche is something else entirely. Not cheap, but not couture, Mary Quant’s collections are ready-to-wear to a tee. These were pieces worth saving up for, worth wearing to special occasions, and they have withstood the test of time. At the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the exhibit was designed to elicit nostalgia. The clothes seemingly lived on through their use of personal anecdotes and photos from the 1960s. The displayed garments were attached to memories; mothers had worn these pieces over and over again. They kept them in such good condition their daughters were eager to wear them generations later.
In a collection full of color and design I urge you to look into the space Quant was able to carve out with the color white. In her pieces where white was utilized, it was hardly ever an accent color. White clothing has an undeniable power and it hardly goes unnoticed. Quant understood this balance and used it strategically throughout her design career as showcased in the exhibit.
Pajamas but make it fashion
This lively white pajama set was displayed as the first piece of clothing when you entered the Mary Quant exhibit. I was immediately disappointed to learn that this Quant set was a replica, not an original piece. I don’t know if it was a stark contrast between the mustard dress to the left or the deep peach pattern shirt hanging behind this but everything about this piece screamed effortlessly Quant. I immediately understood why it was necessary to display the replica of the original style. The white was interrupted by black polka dots and the proportions were layered but they never competed. It was comfortable with a fun flare. Unlike the following two designs which popped out to me for their fabric and for their inspiration, this piece from 1955 was a starting point both for the exhibition and Mary Quant’s legacy.
After walking past the polka dot set, the next case that caught my attention featured my trend prediction for 2020: the plastic lobster. We absolutely must bring back the plastic lobster.
It is impossible not to notice this piece when walking through the exhibit. The mannequin in all her glory is walking a lobster on a leash and it took me out. Once I was able to stop chuckling I realized the entire outfit was supposed to elicit a response. The true focus wasn’t the plastic lobster, the true focus was the white shorts.
The stark white shorts in this piece resemble the undergarments commonly worn during the Victorian area. Similarly, the navy blouse was inspired by outfits used for bathing during that time. Created in 1961 the piece loosely plays around with the same overall silhouette as the pajama set from 1955: square fitting top with slim-fitting shorts. However, by playing with the Victorian inspiration, contrasting the deep navy with stark white, and adding a pillbox hat to finish the look, Quant put a completely different spin on the later design. She managed to draw inspiration from eras of the past while maintaining the comfort and style she was bringing in for future generations.
Immediately upon rounding the bend at the Victoria and Albert Museum, this all-white look jumps out at you. At the beginning of the 1960s plastic-coated cotton was all the rage. Quant described it as “shiny man-made stuff and its shrieking colors”. She was so inspired that she allowed the fabric to influence her “Wet Collection”, a fashion show featured exclusively PVC styles.
A part of the original collection, the bright white tabard raincoat and matching sou western hat gleam on display. Based on material alone, this piece stands out against the other two outfits I selected. Cut as a mini dress with a v-neckline and styled with a black turtle neck, this piece struck a balance between the classic silhouettes of the 1960s and the new PVC fabric. Mary Quant’s pieces typically exude color but I could not turn my head from this white dress. Behind the bright display featured a model wearing the complete look rain boots in hand. I adored seeing the look come to life and it was one of my favorites in the entire exhibit, she looked ready for whatever rainy weather London brings.
Quant was an embodiment of the energy and freedom of the time. The exhibit at the V & A is a must-see. Little did I know how much inspiration my closet draws from the trailblazing designs of Mary Quant’s collections. From the bright white sets, PVC jackets, tight ribbed sweaters, silky onesies, and mini skirts I was able to look through multiple displays at the Victoria and Albert Museum and identify microtrends that I wear today. Anyone who visits the V & A to see the Quant Exhibit should walk away feeling as though they have just taken a breath of fresh air.