Mary Quant (born 1934) epitomises my idealised sense of the 1960s. New and exciting: London, the haircuts, the daisy logo, the miniskirts…
Mary Quant opened her fantastically influential Bazaar boutique in King’s Road, Chelsea in 1955 with her husband (they met as students at Goldsmiths College) and a friend. It quickly became a gathering point for London’s youthful new trendsetters.
Although Quant’s dresses were cheap in contrast to couture work of the time, they were still expensive for many who wanted to wear them. In 1963 Quant and her colleagues launched a lower-priced line – the Mary Quant Ginger Group – so that, as she said in her autobiography, “all the swinging chicks could have them.”
The Ginger Group’s unofficial tagline was ‘wild clothes at tame prices’. Quant wanted to democratise fashion, and to “increase the availability of fun to everyone.”
The one Mary Quant dress in the Otago Museum collection is from her Ginger Group range. Made from fawn-coloured washable wool, it has a belt and side pockets but is otherwise quite simple. And of course, it has that iconic label.
Jocelyn Harris, Emeritus Professor at the University of Otago, donated our Ginger Group dress to the Museum. Professor Harris says she bought it in 1964-65. She was a doctoral candidate in English at the University of London, and thinks she first wore it to a reception for scholarship holders.
Harris remembers having backcombed her hair to puff elegantly on the top of her head, only for a pigeon to target it as she walked down Whitehall. A good reminder that even the fashionable among us are no match for the whims of nature!
Given Professor Harris’s international renown as a Jane Austen scholar, Quant’s comment about the “limited intelligence” of “intellectual girl[s]” who completely disregard fashion is entertaining, but not especially applicable.
Quant advised young intellectuals to learn that “fashion is not frivolous; it is a part of being alive today.” This seems to sum up her attitude, and the mindset that led her to create such a defining brand.
Reference: Quant, Mary. Quant. Cassell, 1966.