Mary Quant: Mini Skirt Creator and Queen of Swinging London


The creator of the mini-skirt, British designer Mary Quant, turns 80 on Tuesday still brimming with enthusiasm for fashion and women's rights.

She admits a certain nostalgia for the "high excitement and innovation" of 1960s "Swinging London", but told Agence France Presse it was "wonderful to be a woman and alive right now".

"Women are enjoying their lives more than ever before," she said in an emailed statement, and gave an approving nod to current trends: "It is all legs and bottoms."

Quant scandalized British society with her frank views on sex and her thigh-skimming skirts and shift dresses worn with colored tights.

Known for her bob haircut almost as much as for her designs, she revolutionized women's fashion -- and with it, how many of her customers saw themselves.

In her 2012 autobiography, Quant described with admiration the "superwomen" now who "move like athletes and sit like men with their knees well apart. Their children take their mother's surname... They are in control".

Quant herself is widowed with one son, Orlando, and three grandchildren. Her husband and business partner, Alexander Plunket Greene, died in 1990 at just 57.

She currently lives in Surrey, southwest of London, and remains a consultant on her make-up company that she sold in 2000, and which still bears her flower logo.

Quant met APG, as she called her husband, while they were studying at Goldsmiths art college in London, drawn by his eccentric style -- he used to wear his mother's pyjama tops as shirts.

Together they opened their first boutique, Bazaar, in 1955 in Chelsea, a district to the west of the capital that would soon become the beating heart of Swinging London.

Bazaar sold clothes and accessories, the restaurant in the basement became a meeting point for young people and artists and soon the whole district was attracting celebrities such as Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Hepburn, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

'Immoral and disgusting'

Quant designed short dresses and skirts with simple lines and vibrant colors, which she enjoyed showcasing in extravagant and provocative window displays overlooking the King's Road.

"City gents in bowler hats beat on our shop window with their umbrellas shouting 'Immoral!' and 'Disgusting!' at the sight of our mini-skirts over the tights, but customers poured in to buy," she recalled in her book.

The King's Road became a constant catwalk show for girls in mini-skirts, drawing American photographers keen for a view of Swinging London with a party atmosphere rivaled only by Carnaby Street.

Business was good, and during the 1960s Quant opened a second shop in London, collaborated with the US department store JC Penney and launched a more mass-market line of clothes, The Ginger Group.

She used geometric designs, polka dots and contrasting colors and played around with new fabrics, including PVC and stretch fabrics, for a modern and playful look.

"The clothes I made happened to fit in exactly with the teenage trend, with pop records and espresso bars and jazz clubs," Quant recalled in her first book, "Quant by Quant".

"She was in the right place at the right time and that was part of her success," confirms Jenny Lister, a fashion curator at the V&A Museum in London which has many Quant items in its permanent collection.

Quant's personality and style -- including her iconic fringe cut by Vidal Sassoon -- made her "probably the most famous fashion designer that has come out of this country", Lister told AFP.

"She had an audacious approach and she went out to get headlines and would make very provocative statements about sexuality and her private life as well, which perhaps went along with her clothes, which were seen as quite outrageous at the time," she added.

Quant was honored by the British establishment with an OBE in 1966, and her legacy can still be seen on the high-street today, including fashion stores like Topshop.

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