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Mary Quant at The V&A: A nostalgic trip back to the 60s


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The '60s were a time of social change, and nothing changed more than the fashion. Gone were the long dresses and restrictive styles of the '50s and in were mini skirts, tiny shorts and shift dresses. A pioneer of the decade was Mary Quant, the London-born designer, who changed the style of an entire city.

To celebrate the beloved designer's legacy, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has curated an exhibition celebrating her best work, from her early days in the Chelsea Bazaar to having her clothes on the pages of Vogue.

Our lifestyle editor Ruby is a huge fan of all things '60s, so she took a trip to the V&A to see if the exhibition would live up to the hype... 

Image credit: Ruby Naldrett

I arrived at the exhibition at 10am, which is when the museum opens for the day, so it's the perfect time to get to an exhibition before it's filled with people. It's a lot smaller the Dior one, which is also at the V&A, but I think that works in its favour.

Spaced out across two floors, vintage Mary Quant designs fill the exhibition space. Despite her huge popularity and influence, Quant is a designer than I embarrassingly knew little about - just the stories from my grandmother about her boutique in Chelsea and her very short skirts. 

We're introduced to Quant from the very beginning. She studied illustration at Goldsmiths and there's a chance to see some of her earliest work - even then it's clear that she had a bright eye for fashion design. 

Image credit: Ruby Naldrett

A big part of Quant's career and her legacy was her ability to take menswear shapes and styles and adapt them for women. I was taken aback at how modern the clothes looked, and it's clear to see where brands such as Alexa Chung and Miu Miu get a lot of their inspiration. My favourite piece from the whole exhibition was a high waisted skirt with matching waistcoat (pictured far left above). It was styled over a striped shirt and with a tie, and it's something I would 100% wear today (and may or may not have trawled eBay trying to locate.)

Image credit: Ruby Naldrett

In contrast to her masculine shapes, Quant also designed hyper-feminine pieces - using fabrics from Liberty and William Morris. Florals are a huge theme throughout her early work, as are exaggerated ruffles. One thing all the garments have in common is, of course, Quant's signature micro mini skirt. For years women had been restricted by their long pencil skirts - my grandmother tells me that in the '50s their skirts were so impractical, the driver would have to lift women on to the buses because their movements were so restricted. Quant put a stop to this, and we have her to thank for the freedom of having our legs out!

Image credit: Ruby Naldrett

It's not all clothing either - the exhibition has a large array of Quant's early makeup on display. Somewhat naively I believed that contour and highlight was a new invention, brought into the public sphere thanks to the likes of Kim Kardashian. However I couldn't be more wrong - Quant was selling 'face shapers' (dark contour powders), highlighters and false lashes over five decades ago!

There are also interesting video clips throughout the exhibition where women who worked on the Quant beauty counters chat about what it was like. Before the days of YouTube tutorials and step-by-step makeup guides, Quant's beauty team were offering detailed cartoon strips as their version of a 'tutorial'.

Image credit: Ruby Naldrett

All in all the exhibition was great, and it definitely helped to be one of the first people to arrive - by the time I had left a huge queue had formed around each exhibit. One thing I would have liked to have seen is more of her iconic pieces - for example when Pattie Boyd married The Beatles' George Harrison they both wore Mary Quant, and it would have been interesting to see that on display.

It's a small, but perfectly formed exhibition with a killer gift shop where you can purchase Quant merchandise such as clothing and makeup. I bought a necklace for my grandmother, who now has a piece of her younger years with her forever. 

If you're in and around London it's well worth a visit, so why not kill two birds with one stone and visit Quant and Dior on the same day?

The Mary Quant exhibition is at the V&A until February 2020. Tickets start at £10.

Read our review of the Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition

Lead image credit: Ruby Naldrett

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