On February 11, 1934, Mary Quant was born in the London suburb of Blackheath. The daughter of Welsh teachers, she grew up to become one of the most influential fashion designers in modern history. She helped create the Swinging Sixties style, which included mini skirts, geometric prints, PVC, bright-hued tights and the bob hairstyle. By injecting the stuffy London fashion scene with a youthful and more colorful makeover, Quant created a sexy look that is still omnipresent today. By making the era’s hottest trends accessible to the masses, Quant ensured that everyone across the globe could emulate their sixties style icons like Twiggy.
Quant met her husband and business partner, Alexander Plunkett-Greene, while they were both students at Goldsmiths College. In 1955, she opened her first boutique, Bazaar, on King’s Road in the Chelsea neighborhood of London. At her shop, she helped create the now-iconic “Chelsea Look.” One of her early bestsellers was a white plastic collar that added a stylish upgrade to black dresses and t-shirts.
When she realized the fashion world lacked the looks she wanted to sell in her shop, she started designing them herself. She famously said that 1960s style should be “arrogant, aggressive and sexy.” Her designs reflected her fierce fashion agenda: knee-high white plastic boots, skinny rib sweaters, mini skirts, and cardigans that doubled as very short dresses. As her generation’s sartorial tastes were yearning for a playful look, Quant was at the fashion forefront. Of the new 1960’s fashion trend, she explained, “Snobbery has gone out of fashion, and in our shops you will find duchesses jostling with typists to buy the same dresses.”
Quant is often attributed with creating the mini skirt. However, she claimed that she could only be credited with the name inspired by her favorite car, The Mini Cooper. Quant once recalled, “It was the girls on the King’s Road who invented the mini. I was making easy, youthful, simple clothes, in which you could move, in which you could run and jump and we would make them the length the customer wanted. I wore them very short and the customers would say, ‘Shorter, shorter.'”
The Chelsea store became such a success that Quant opened a second shop in 1961. In 1962, she signed a major contract with J.C. Penney. By 1963, Quant’s styles were global sensations, so she went into mass-production to satisfy the demand for her wares. She also published her first book, “Quant By Quant.”
Always setting new trends, in the late 1960s, she created another iconic 1960s style: hot pants. By the end of the 1960s, Quant was the UK’s most high-profile designer and her brand was an international hit. It was estimated that up to seven million women had at least one of her products in their wardrobe.
Quant released her second autobiography in 2012, and in 2015 she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE), for services to British fashion. We wish Mary Quant a happy 84th birthday today and thank her for making fashion more colorful, playful and affordable!