The V&A's celebration of British fashion designer Dame Mary Quant whirls around two floors in a frenzied kaleidoscope of popsicle-coloured miniskirts, stretch-jersey pinafores, bare knees, daisy motifs and youthful spirit.
It traces the years between 1955 and 1975, when Quant revolutionised Britain's high street and liberated women with her liberating designs, uprooting the gender conservatism that came before her. She grabbed power back from the stiff, staid couturiers of Paris and placed modern women – from debutantes and art students to teachers and nurses – at the forefront of a trend-setting, post-war Britain.
The first tier of the exhibition examines the decade from 1955 to 1965. It incorporates archival footage, magazines, photographs and clothing to trace Quant's elevation from a small King's Road boutique to a globally recognised lifestyle brand. It observes the entertaining slant her designs brought to fashion, a narrative brought to life by displays showcasing everything from her jazzy riffs on tweed-heavy, masculine tailoring to wet-look PVC trenches with matching hats.
The upper floor mirrors Quant's recognisable daisy motif, with a circular pavilion as the daisy's centre, flanked by five, petal-shaped display cases. The central pavilion holds just a few of the designer's mass-market products, from tights and cosmetics to berets, barbies and sunglasses, that helped to establish Quant as 'The Godmother of Accessible Fashion'.
Mary Quant and models at the Quant Afoot footwear collection launch, 1967 © PA Prints 2008.jpg
Curators Jenny Lister and Stephanie Wood handpicked treasures from both Dame Mary Quant and the V&A's personal archives. But it was the V&A's public appeal for contributors, dubbed #WeWantQuant, to track down rare garments from across the country, which sparked over one thousand responses.
From this campaign, 35 objects were selected for display alongside personal stories from their owners. An immersive projection circulates quotes, photographs and stories from these contributors, and is the beating heart of an exhibition alive with memory; like that of Susan White's, who remembers wearing a cream, Quant minidress as she tore her moped through the sleepy mill towns of Lancashire.
Such contributions – by real women – are what makes this exhibition so special, and render it exceptionally democratic when considered in the trajectory of previous fashion exhibitions. We do not simply worship at the altar (or wardrobes) of aristocracy and high-society characters as in Dior, or dreamily take in the flashbulb-lit gothic glamour of Savage Beauty, but we also revel in the mainstream.
It's an exhibition which not only celebrates Mary Quant's prolific career and lasting contribution to fashion, but the ordinary women whom she inspired to rebel against the traditional dress of their mothers before them.
|What||Mary Quant, V&A Review|
|Where||V&A, South Kensington, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL | MAP|
|Nearest tube||South Kensington (underground)|
06 Apr 19 – 16 Feb 20, Check website for daily opening
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|