Dame Mary Quant, the British fashion designer who has been credited with the invention of the 1960s miniskirt has died. She was 93.
Mary Quant’s death
Dame Mary Quant’s family announced that the fashion designer passed away “peacefully at home” in Surrey, United Kingdom on the morning of April 13th. Her family called her “one of the most internationally recognized fashion designers of the 20th century and an outstanding innovator of the Swinging Sixties.”
“She opened her first shop Bazaar in the King’s Road in 1955 and her far-sighted and creative talents quickly established a unique contribution to British fashion,” continued the family’s statement.
Shortly after news of her death broke, the Victoria and Albert Museum, which recently hosted an exhibition about Dame Mary’s designs, took to Twitter to commemorate the late fashion designer. “It’s impossible to overstate Quant’s contribution to fashion,” the museum tweeted, along with a video that highlights her contribution to the world of fashion. “She represented the joyful freedom of 1960s fashion and provided a new role model for young women. Fashion today owes so much to her trailblazing vision.”
Dame Mary Quant (1930-2023)
It’s impossible to overstate Quant’s contribution to fashion. She represented the joyful freedom of 1960s fashion, and provided a new role model for young women.
Fashion today owes so much to her trailblazing vision. pic.twitter.com/4z3MXp0tZl
— V&A (@V_and_A) April 13, 2023
Alexandra Shulman, former editor-in-chief of British Vogue, also paid tribute to Dame Mary. “RIP Dame Mary Quant. A leader of fashion but also in female entrepreneurship – a visionary who was much more than a great haircut,” Shulman tweeted.
RIP Dame Mary Quant. A leader of fashion but also in female entrepreneurship- a visionary who was much more than a great haircut
— Alexandra Shulman (@AShulman2) April 13, 2023
Very sad news today to learn of the passing of the 60s daringly creative, fun genius, much-loved lady, Dame Mary Quant.
Mary insisted on making George's and my wedding coats in 1966; his, Black Mongolian Fur and mine, Red Fox.
A true icon. RIP pic.twitter.com/qQeNjyFz2T
— Pattie Boyd (@thepattieboyd) April 13, 2023
Also in a tweet, photographer and model Pattie Boyd called Dame Mary a “true icon” while sharing that the late fashion designer insisted on making wedding coats for her and her first husband George Harrison back in 1966. “Very sad news today to learn of the passing of the 60s daringly creative, fun genius, much-loved lady, Dame Mary Quant,” Boyd wrote on Twitter, along with a photo of her Red Fox coat and Harrison’s Black Mongolian Fur coat, both created by Dame Mary.
Vanessa Friedman, the fashion director of the International New York Times, also paid tribute to Dame Mary, tweeting, “RIP Mary Quant, who freed the female leg. We owe you.”
RIP Mary Quant, who freed the female leg. We owe you.
— Vanessa Friedman (@VVFriedman) April 13, 2023
Meanwhile, over on Instagram, Lesley Lawson, the 1960s fashion icon best known as Twiggy, wrote: “Mary Quant was such an influence on young girls in the late 50s early 60s. She revolutionised fashion and was a brilliant female entrepreneur. The 1960s would have never been the same without her. Condolences to her family, RIP dear Dame Mary.
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Fellow fashion designer Sir Paul Smith also remembered Dame Mary, calling her a “brave innovator who was constantly modern, willing to shock and blessed with a business and personal partner [Alexander Phuket Greene] who could help turn her ideas into reality.”
Mary Quant’s early life
Dame Mary, whose complete name is Barbara Mary Quant, was born on February 11th, 1930 in Blackheath, London, England. Both of her parents were Welsh teachers. Although she did not study fashion formally, she started to experiment with clothes at an early age. In her bestselling 1966 autobiography Quant by Quant, she mentioned that she began to shorten her skirts at school.
Mary Quant’s education and the beginning of her fashion career
In the early 1950s, Dame Mary earned an art education diploma at Goldsmiths College. This was where and when she met her future husband Alexander Plunket Greene, who later helped her establish her fashion brand.
But before designing and making her own clothes, Dame Mary completed an apprenticeship with the milliner Erik of Brook Street. After which, in 1955, she opened Bazaar, a boutique on King’s Road in Chelsea.
Bazaar sold a variety of clothes, including the 1960s miniskirt she popularized. The store’s basement restaurant quickly became a hangout for the young and fashionable. And later on, Dame Mary’s models started to be showcased in over-the-top window displays overlooking the King’s Road, which ultimately became a miniskirt catwalk that attracted American photographers interested in capturing Swinging London.
“City gents in bowler hats beat on our shop window with their umbrellas shouting ‘immoral!’ and ‘disgusting!’ at the sight of our miniskirts over the tights, but customers poured in to buy,” Dame Mary wrote in Quant by Quant.
Due in part to Bazaar’s popularity, the whole Chelsea district also began to attract celebrities, including Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Hepburn, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones.
What was Mary Quant famous for?
Dame Mary was best known for inventing the 1960s miniskirt. But this has been the subject of a long and bitter dispute with late French designer Andre Courreges and other fashion designers who have also taken credit for conceiving the piece of clothing.
Back in 2014, Dame Mary, who named the skirt after her favorite make of car, said that it was actually “the girls on King’s Road who invented the mini.”
“I was making clothes which would let you run and dance and we would make them the length the customer wanted,” she recalled. “I wore them very short and the customers would say, ‘shorter, shorter’. [It’s a] “feeling of freedom and liberation.”
Aside from the miniskirt, Dame Mary also popularized tights, hotpants, onesies, skinny rib sweaters, and PVC raincoats. Taking cues from Mod style, her creations come in bright and unusual colors, with geometric designs and polka dot patterns to achieve a modern and playful look. While her chic designs were lauded, she made sure that her clothes were comfortable and practical.
Although Dame Mary’s clothes were not low-priced, they were more affordable than those created by designer brands. This made her brand appealing to a new generation of young women with jobs and disposable income to spend on clothes.
In 1966, Dame Mary also launched a cosmetics line called Mary Quant Cosmetics, which remains in existence up to this day.
Mary Quant’s family
Dame Mary was married to Plunket Greene until his death in 1990. They had a son, Orlando Plunket Greene, who has been on in keeping his mother’s legacy. In 2019, during London fashion week, Orlando unveiled a plaque on the Kings Road building where Bazaar once stood.
Mary Quant’s honors and recognition
Dame Mary was the first-ever winner of the Dress of the Year award in 1963 and was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her outstanding contribution to the fashion industry in 1966.
After winning the Hall of Fame Award of the British Fashion Council in 1990, she was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2015 for her services to British fashion. Fast-forward to 2023, she was appointed a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honor (CH).
Furthermore, Dame Mary was a fellow of the Chartered Society of Designers, and a winner of the Minerva Medal, the society’s highest award. She also received an honorary doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 2006.
Where to watch the Quant documentary
Want to know more about Dame Mary? There’s actually a documentary about her life and career. Titled, Quant, the 2021 film was directed by actress and designer Sadie Frost.
“The more I researched and delved into her life I realized the vast impact she had on fashion, popular culture, history, and women’s rights,” Frost said in a statement to the BBC. “I really felt like I knew and loved her. Rest in peace, Mary.”
Quant is exclusively streaming on Chicken Soup for the Soul in the United States. You can watch the trailer for the documentary below: