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Mary Quant
Photo: Ted West/Getty Images

Mary Quant

Biography
(1934–)
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London designer Mary Quant is immortalized by fashion iconography as the originator of the miniskirt.

Who Is Mary Quant?

Immortalized by fashion iconography as the originator of the miniskirt, London designer Mary Quant had an art-school background and had been designing and manufacturing her own clothes since the late 1950s. She had one distinct advantage over previous designers: She was a contemporary of her clients, rather than of an older generation. Convinced that fashion needed to be affordable to be accessible to the young, she opened her own retail boutique, Bazaar, on the Kings Road in 1955, introducing the "mod" era and the "Chelsea look."

Early Life

Mary Quant was born on February 11, 1934, in Blackheath, London, England, to Welsh teachers Jack and Mary Quant, who were originally from mining families. She went to Blackheath High School before studying illustration at Goldsmiths College.

Quant achieved a diploma in art education from Goldsmiths and went on to become an apprentice couture milliner, at which point she began designing and manufacturing clothes. She met her future husband and business partner, Alexander Plunkett-Greene, at Goldsmiths. The couple wed in 1957 and had a son together, Orlando. The two were happily married until Plunkett-Greene's death in 1990.

Famed Fashion Designer

Quant had one distinct advantage over previous designers: she was a contemporary of her clients, rather than of an older generation. Convinced that fashion needed to be affordable to be accessible to the young, she opened her own retail boutique, Bazaar, on the Kings Road in 1955, with the help of Plunkett-Greene and former solicitor Archie McNair, introducing the "mod" era and the "Chelsea look." The best-selling items were white plastic collars used to brighten up black dresses or T-shirts and black stretch leggings.

In her quest for new and interesting clothes for Bazaar, Quant wasn't satisfied with the range of clothes available and decided that the shop would have to be stocked with clothes made by herself. Knee-high, white, patent plastic, lace-up boots and tight, skinny rib sweaters in stripes and bold checks, which came to epitomize the "London look," were the result.

Along with trendy fashion shows and window displays, she secured her reputation through the production of original clothing, sold in affordable boutiques, for the new youth-orientated market.

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Following on the success of the first Chelsea store, a second Bazaar opened in Knightsbridge in 1961. By 1963, Quant was exporting to the United States, going into mass-production to keep up with the demand, and the Mary Quant worldwide brand was born.

The mid-1960s saw Quant at the height of her fame, when she created the micro-mini and the "paint box" makeup of 1966, and added the shiny, plastic raincoats and little grey pinafore dresses that came to epitomize the 1960s fashion era. She expanded her brand further into a range of original patterned tights, a range of cosmetics and other fashion accessories.

Quant has claimed that she did not invent the miniskirt, but, rather, the girls who visited her shops did, as they wanted them shorter and shorter. These skirts were also in development by other designers, but Quant's is the name most associated with them. She even named the garments after her favorite make of car: the Mini.

In 1966, Quant received her Order of the British Empire for her contribution to the fashion industry. She arrived at Buckingham Palace to accept the honor in a miniskirt and cut-away gloves. That same year, she wrote her first book, Quant by Quant, and has since gone on to write books on make up and another autobiography.

Late 1960s and Beyond

Quant went on to popularize hot pants in the late '60s, and concentrated on household goods, makeup and clothes during the 1970s and '80s. In 1988, she designed the interior of the Mini Designer, which incorporated black and white striped seats with red trimming and seatbelts.

In 2000, Quant resigned as director of Mary Quant LTD, her cosmetics company, after a Japanese buy-out.

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