Mary Quant Biography

PHOTO: Mary Quant

Immortalised by fashion iconography as the originator of the mini skirt, London designer Mary Quant had an art-school background and had been designing and manufacturing her own clothes since the late 50's. She had one distinct advantage over previous designers: she was a contemporary of her clients, rather than of an older generation. Convinced that fashion needed to be affordable to be accessible to the young, she opened her own retail boutique, “Bazaar”, on the Kings Road in 1955, introducing the 'mod' era and the 'Chelsea Look.'

Mary Quant was born on 11 February 1934 in Blackheath, London, to Welsh teachers Jack and Mary Quant, who were originally from mining families. She went to Blackheath High School before studying illustration at Goldsmiths College.

Quant achieved a diploma in Art Education from Goldsmiths and went on to become an apprentice couture milliner, at which point she started designing and manufacturing clothes.
She met her future husband and business partner Alexander Plunkett-Greene at Goldsmiths and they married in 1957. They had a son together called Orlando and were happily married until Plunkett-Greene died in 1990.

Quant had one distinct advantage over previous designers: she was a contemporary of her clients, rather than of an older generation. Convinced that fashion needed to be affordable to be accessible to the young, she opened her own retail boutique, 'Bazaar', on the Kings Road in 1955, with the help of Plunkett-Greene and former solicitor Archie McNair, introducing the 'mod' era and the 'Chelsea Look'. The best-selling items were white plastic collars used to brighten up black dresses or t-shirts and black stretch leggings.

In her quest for new and interesting clothes for 'Bazaar', she was not satisfied with the range of clothes available and decided that the shop would have to be stocked with clothes made by herself.
Knee-high, white, patent plastic, lace up boots, and tight, skinny rib sweaters in stripes and bold checks, which came to epitomise the 'London Look', were the result.

Along with trendy fashion shows and window displays, she secured her reputation through the production of original clothing, sold in affordable boutiques, for the new youth-orientated market.

Following on the success of the first Chelsea store, a second Bazaar opened in Knightsbridge in 1961. By 1963 Mary was exporting to the US, going into mass-production to keep up with the demand, and the Mary Quant worldwide brand was born.

The mid 60s saw her at the height of her fame, when she created the micro-mini and the 'paint box' make-up of 1966, and added the shiny, plastic raincoats and little grey pinafore dresses that came to epitomise the 60's fashion era. She expanded her brand further into a range of original patterned tights, a range of cosmetics and other fashion accessories.

Quant has claimed that she did not invent the mini skirt but rather the girls who visited her shops did as they wanted them shorter and shorter. These skirts were also in development by other designers but Quant is the name most associated with them. She even named the garments after her favourite make of car - the Mini.

In 1966 Quant received her OBE for her contribution to the fashion industry. She arrived at Buckingham Palace to accept the honour in a mini skirt and cut-away gloves. In the same year, she wrote her first book 'Quant by Quant'. She has since gone on to write books on make up and another autobiography.

Quant went on to popularise hot pants in the late 1960s and concentrated on household goods and make up as well as clothes during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1988 she designed the interior of the Mini Designer, which incorporated black and white striped seats with red trimming and seatbelts.

In 2000, she resigned as director of Mary Quant LTD, her cosmetics company, after a Japanese buy-out.

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