Dame Mary Quant pictured in 1965
Fashion

5 things we learned about Dame Mary Quant from the upcoming documentary about her life

Billed as a “rule breaker, trend setter, hemline slasher”, we caught an early preview of Sadie Frost’s upcoming Quant documentary to mine for information about the revered designer. This is what we learned.

“I think the point of fashion is not to get bored with looking at somebody, I think the point of clothes for women is that one, you’re noticed; two that you look sexy; and three that you feel good,” states the mellifluous voice of revered London designer Mary Quant in upcoming documentary Quant.

Referred to largely as the woman responsible for the invention of the mini skirt, Quant is set to be immortalised next week with the release of Sadie Frost’s directorial debut, which is peppered with star-studded appearances from Charlotte Tilbury, Edward Enninful, Jasper Conran (Quant’s nephew) and a voice-over from Kate Moss herself.

The 90-minute long biopic tells the story of how Quant’s love with the frivolity and froth of fashion was born out of the collective sombre mood that swept post-war Britain into a wave of austerity. 

Mary Quant pictured in her London apartment
Mary Quant pictured in her London apartment

What came next was largely where Quant’s journey began, as she “knew what the woman in the street wanted” and pioneered the trends that fashion has very much ushered back into its embrace this season; vertiginous hems and OTT party tights.  

The documentary is a feel-good look back in fashion’s rearview mirror at the Swinging Sixties and how fashion, most notably Quant herself, began breaking boundaries in tandem with women’s emancipation. We caught a sneak peek of the documentary, and these are five things we learned. 

1. Her love of the mini skirt started young       

“I liked my skirt short largely so that I could run and catch the bus I saw no reason why my childhood shouldn’t last forever,” an old vignette of Quant recalls. And indeed, it was her in her childhood that the seeds of her love of a short skirt were planted.

Raised in Pembrokeshire, Wales, Quant described her childhood as “blissful.” Her parents, two baptist school teachers and her brother had to move often during the war, which, the designer recalled, made her feel as though they were “being shunted from one school to another.”

At the age of three, the soon-to-be designer became “completely self-conscious about clothes”, after noticing that certain pieces didn’t suit her properly. It would be just a few years until anybody realised that from this strife, a star was born. 

Model Jenny Gassity wearing Mary Quant in 1966
Model Jenny Gassity wearing Mary Quant in 1966

2. She named it the mini skirt after her car

As a teenager in the 50s, when the attentions of the fashion industry were still largely on the couture industry – an elite world for the 1% - Quant became resolved on wanting “fashion to be far more casual and easy-going.”

Her love was designing clothes for “real-life people, for young people”, and so that’s precisely what she did. And while she is lauded by many as the woman responsible for the mini skirt, Quant employed the moniker not as a reference to the micro hems of the skirts (which were, initially, only an inch or so above the knee), but after being inspired by her beloved Mini Cooper car. 

Mary Quant and her husband and business partner, Alexander Plunkett Greene
Mary Quant and her husband and business partner, Alexander Plunkett Greene

3. It wasn’t just about fashion, it was political too

Quant’s ascent as a designer coincided with the emancipation of women from the shackles of misogyny to which they’d spent much of the first part of the century. The contraceptive pill became available in 1961, six years after Quant opened her now-legendary boutique on the King’s Road, Bazaar, which was the first of its kind for the capital.

And as the Swinging Sixties earned that precise title, attitudes towards women’s fashion shifted, in line with the sexual and societal liberation which was sweeping the nation. Before long, Quant’s now-cult skirts weren’t just an inch or so above the knee but 7-8’ above the knee. 

A model wearing Mary Quant on Carnaby Street, London
A model wearing Mary Quant on Carnaby Street, London

4. Quant Cosmetics was also a huge success

Quant was at the heart of a “youthquake”, in that she knew exactly what real-life people wanted to wear, as opposed to what lots of the other big brands of the time thought they did. But it wasn’t just in fashion that she was a pioneer. Quant Cosmetics became a huge part of her business by the 70s, as did her shoe collections, which she designed with comfort in mind.

Far before her time, Quant began exporting her cosmetics and shoes around the world, causing her star to rocket internationally. Before long, she became beloved in America, Europe and beyond, too, further cementing her status. 

Quant at work in her studio
Quant at work in her studio

5. She was one of the first designers to embrace inclusivity

In the age of Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, Quant was one of the first designers of the era to embrace inclusivity in her shows and collections, introducing and paving a new way for fashion.

While fashion had, until the 60s, been dominated by the elite, the era of David Bailey proved a turning point for the industry, one which ushered in more talent from different backgrounds. As Quant is so eloquently filmed as saying in the documentary: “The girls we want to see wearing our clothes look as real as possible.”

“Black models were not exactly used in magazines at the time…” Edward Enninful says. “But Mary put these models out there; she proposed a new idea of beauty.” 

Quant will be officially released in UK cinemas on 29 October 2021. 

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Images: courtesy of Getty.