Source: Getty Images
On Thursday, April 13, 2023, Dame Mary Quant, an innovative designer credited for inventing the miniskirt, passed away at 93 years old. While her influence reached an apex in the 1960s, her influence and legacy will not soon be forgotten.
“Mary was a unique trailblazer who made an indelible mark on fashion,” a representative from Mary Quant Cosmetics LTD said in a statement the following day. “All members of staff at Mary Quant Group are deeply saddened and pass on their condolences to Mary’s family and friends.”
Born and raised in London, England, Quant always had an eye for aesthetics — and, specifically, fashion. While her parents forbade her from taking a fashion course, she earned a degree in art education in 1953. She made her way back to fashion during her first apprenticeship at Erik of Brook Street, a premier milliner in Mayfair, England. From there, she knew that fashion couldn’t simply serve as a hobby for her.
Quant opened up her first boutique, Bazaar, in 1955, but quickly found herself dissatisfied with the offerings of fashion wholesalers. When a pair of spotted, tan pajamas, which Quant described as “mad,” landed a feature in Harper’s Bazaar, she took it as a sign to begin selling her own designs.
Although she was beginning to make small waves in the world avant-garde fashion, Quant was still hungry for more industry knowledge. In addition to her full-time job at Bazaar, she began attending evening classes in an effort to continue honing her craft. Her boutique became "hand-to-mouth;" she used Bazaar’s profits to fund her designs, with which she then stocked the store the following day. While risky, this system allowed her to continue expanding her skill set — and to refresh Bazaar’s stock on a daily basis.
It wasn’t long before Quant’s boutique became a hit. With a bustling, social atmosphere and alternative-yet-sophisticated fashion options, Bazaar, located on the iconic King’s Road, soon became an unignorable presence in London’s fashion scene. During the height of her career, she revolutionized several classic aspects of fashion — from bright, “wet look” clothing, to riffs on antique undergarments as accessories.
Source: Fashion Textile Museum
Quant’s style was ever-evolving, splashy, captivating, and bound to surprise its audiences. However, one of her most infamous design credits is that of the miniskirt, a name which Quant affectionately coined after her favorite car, the Mini-Cooper.
"I liked my skirts short because I wanted to run and catch the bus to get to work," she said in an interview with the British Press Association (BPA). “[And] that feeling of freedom and liberation."
While Quant had an affinity with short skirts, she argued that the miniskirt was born out of the demands of her customers — who, when she fit them for skirts, would always insist on shortening the hem. The popularity of these skirts in her catalog soon translated into popularity in the streets of London.
Source: The Daily Beast
“It wasn’t me…who invented the miniskirt,” she told BPA. “It was the girls on King’s Road.” As the miniskirt gained notoriety, Quant began taking her designs to new heights of exposure. The miniskirt launched into ubiquity when she worked with supermodel and fashion icon Twiggy Lawson. This professional relationship not only bolstered Quant’s reputation, but left a notable impact on Lawson.
“Mary Quant … revolutionized fashion and was a brilliant female entrepreneur," Lawson wrote on Instagram on the day of Quant’s passing. "The 1960s would have never been the same without her."
The 1960s were the golden years of Quant’s career. From signing a design contract with JC Penney, to launching her own cosmetic line, to publishing her own autobiography, her influence expanded far past her boutiques (which has also multiplied). By the end of the decade, nearly seven million women owned one of her pieces. Her trademark icon, a simplistic daisy, was an official stamp of the 1960s.
Quant became an international name in the fashion industry, and, at the turn of the century, she remained in the spotlight. Her ground-breaking designs earned her an exhibition at the London Museum, a second autobiography, and the title of dame, appointed to her by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015. Whether in the 1960s or the 2010s, consumers, designers, and even world leaders commended her for her ambition and cutting-edge creativity.
The importance of Quant’s legacy cannot be overstated. Not only did she “free the female leg,” as international New York Times fashion director Vanessa Friedman tweeted in the wake of her passing, but she also challenged the notion that the female body is inherently sexual. Quant, argued that fashion was “a tool to compete in life outside the home,” rather than an excuse to sexualize the young women who wore them. Quant pushed the boundaries of modesty from previous decades with purpose — and with style.
Quant’s passing marks the end of another icon’s life; however, her legacy has permanently altered the fabric of international fashion history. Her designs, and her creative spirit, are undoubtedly here to stay.