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13 Apr

Dame Mary Quant, Promoter of the Miniskirt, Dies at 93

LONDON — Dame Mary Quant, accountable for liberating women’s fashion within the ‘50s and ‘60s along with her short hemlines and daring patterns, died Thursday at age 93.

Amongst her many accomplishments, Quant is commonly credited with popularizing short skirts, dubbing them “mini,” and creating hotpants, a kind of short.

Quant “died peacefully at home in Surrey, U.K., this morning,” her family said in an announcement to the PA news agency.

Her family added that she “was probably the most internationally recognized fashion designers of the twentieth century and an excellent innovator of the Swinging ’60s.”

Quant was born in 1934 in Blackheath, southeast London, studied art at Blackheath High School, and later attended Goldsmiths University, graduating in 1953. 

Clothes designer Mary Quant, considered one of the leading lights of the British fashion scene within the Nineteen Sixties, having her hair cut by one other fashion icon, hairdresser Vidal Sassoon, Nov. 10, 1964. (Photo by Ronald Dumont/Every day Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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Two years later, she opened Bazaar, a boutique on King’s Road. True to its name, the shop sold a melange of things, from Quant’s own designs to artwork and jewellery made by her friends from university. 

Frequented by stars like The Rolling Stones and Audrey Hepburn, Bazaar quickly became a hot spot because of its atmospheric setting paired with its revelatory items, which were a far cry from the utilitarian wartime forms of the ’40s. 

Quant was honored with a blue plaque outside 138A King’s Road in London in 2019, the unique site of the boutique. The plaque’s unveiling took place during London Fashion Week.

In 1958, Quant christened the miniskirt “mini,” inspired by the model automobile.

By 1961, Quant opened one other Bazaar in Knightsbridge, which was as successful as its predecessor, prompting global demand for her designs. She exported the “London Look” to the U.S. with JCPenney in 1965, 4 years before The Beatles got here.

By the late ‘60s, she launched the HotPant, a kind of shorts and laid the groundwork for fast fashion, lifestyle branding and even streetwear trends. Mod queen Quant was about so rather more than the miniskirt.

Not only did the designer embrace mass manufacturing and simple care synthetic fabrics reminiscent of PVC, Crimplene, acrylic wool and acetate, she thought far beyond clothing, developing a license-heavy lifestyle brand that got here complete with lingerie, tights, footwear, accessories, costume jewelry, color cosmetics, interior designs and a Daisy toy doll range meant to rival Barbie.

The clothier went on to publish quite a few books, her second book “Color” was released in 1984; “Quant on Make-up” in 1986; “Classic Make up & Beauty Book” in 1996, and in 2011, her second autobiography, “Mary Quant: Autobiography,” was released.

Quant launched her cosmetics line Mary Quant Cosmetics in 1966, which still operates today. She resigned as director of Mary Quant Ltd. in 2000 following a takeover by a Japanese group.

Those deals, and her thriving wholesale business, kept the designer so busy — and prosperous — that by 1970 she had shut all three of her Bazaar retail shops in London, on the King’s Road, in Knightsbridge and on Bond Street. Her dresses weren’t low cost, either, costing double the worth of ones from Marks & Spencer.

Quant’s heels were low and her bras and underpants lightweight and supportive, because of Lycra. She dressed customers in coloured, textured tights — no garter belts there — and relegated painfully constricting girdles to history.

The designer also took the unconventional step of manufacturing tailored trousers and suits, in wools meant for menswear — which she used to purchase at retail from Harrods after which dye in brilliant colours. She stretched that menswear aesthetic into gray tweed dresses with tops like suit vests, and made blouses with oversize neckties, at all times poking fun at convention and searching to unleash female power.

The Mary Quant exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Mary Quant exhibit on the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Adam Duke/WWD

Quant was the topic of a retrospective on the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2019 — 50 years since her last show on the museum.

The showcase explored Quant’s work between 1955 and 1975, taking a fresh take a look at the designer within the context of the #MeToo movement and the brand new momentum behind women’s rights.

“She has been sidelined because she’s not a couture designer,” Stephanie Wood told WWD in 2019, who cocurated the V&A show with Jenny Lister.

Wood said it was the appropriate time to view Quant within the “post #MeToo era, given the incontrovertible fact that she liberated women from stifling rules and regulations.”

In July 2018, the V&A did a call-out on social media with a “WeWantQuant” campaign to gather rare Quant garments. They received greater than 1,000 responses, whittling them all the way down to 35 looks from 30 women, including a brief dress with a frilled neckline and sleeves, and a rainbow lineup of A-line PVC raincoats and capes. All 35 items were on display with charming personal stories and images.

The majority of the show was drawn from the archive of Quant.

The celebrated designer was also the topic of English actor Sadie Frost’s debut documentary “Quant” in 2021.

“It’s such a colourful story that it didn’t feel like I used to be doing a straight-up, factual documentary. It was about bringing out the femininity, the coquettishness, the humor and really making a stance on women’s rights and the way the role of girls has modified,” Frost told WWD on the time.

The documentary was presented as a part of the London Film Festival.

“What Mary created over her profession span of many years was so vast and may never be forgotten. For me it was an actual admiration of one other woman and understanding that it hadn’t at all times been easy for her,” Frost added.

Frost spoke to Quant through her son via various messages and got her blessing before releasing the documentary. Her son, Orlando Plunket-Greene, weighs in on the film alongside British industry heavyweights like Charlotte Tilbury, Kate Moss and British Vogue editor in chief Edward Enninful, who highlights how Quant was ahead of her time in casting models of color and shaping a recent standard of beauty.

Quant received an Order of the Companion of Honour, or CH, for her outstanding achievement in British fashion from King Charles III, in his first Recent Yr Honors list as monarch. The award is proscribed to only 65 people at anyone time.

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