Mary Quant wanted women to have fun. From underwear they could breathe in to fabrics that didn’t disintegrate in one wash and mascara that wouldn’t give them panda-eye, Quant’s namesake brand allowed its customers to look hot without really trying. Ergo: I woke up like this.
The V&A’s major exhibition of the London-born designer skips its way through the trajectory of her career before alighting on the things Quant made iconic (teensy mini-dresses, coloured opaques, monochrome daisies on everything).
In contrast to the fairytale Dior exhibition occupying the V&A’s Sainsbury Gallery, these clothes are not heart-stoppingly beautiful, nor are they ‘wearable art’. But they are covetable. The thought isn’t ‘I would so wear that to the Met Ball’ but ‘I would so wear that to the office’, and walking through, it’s easy to start a mental shopping list (I’d like the pink sailor dress and some metallic tights, please).
This exhibition is a hymn to the ordinary woman. Indeed, many of the garments were sourced via a public call-out to get people rummaging through their wardrobes. So along with the frocks of models there’s one belonging, for example, to a teacher from Newport.
Fashion for everyone was at the heart of Quant and that really comes across here. High street and ‘fast’ fashion have, understandably, come in for a lot of criticism recently but this show captures the anti-elitist, everyone-deserves-nice-things side of the concept.
More could have been done to spread the energetic, irreverent style of the clothes into the exhibition itself – it’s all a bit grey-scale for a brand characterised by bright colours – but there’s something great about admiring clothes whose selling points include ‘comfort’, ‘durability’ and ‘robust fastenings’. These are clothes to eat in, drink a pint in, wrap your legs around someone in. Clothes to live in.
|Opening hours:||Mon-Thu, Sat, Sun 10am-5.45pm; Fri 10am-10pm|
|Transport:||Tube: South Kensington|
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