MARY QUANT DBE
“It is given to a fortunate few, to be born at the right time, in the right place, with the right talents. There are three: CHANEL, DIOR and MARY QUANT.” This was the perfect 1960s description of the British fashion icon, Mary Quant from fashion authority Ernestine Carter. And BRITAIN’S BIGGEST SENSATION, the miniskirt, invented by Mary, will still be as popular in the 2020s as it was 60 years earlier.
Her magic to brighten things up with colourful stockings, curiously feminine patterned tights, waistcoats, high collars, ‘mad’ lounging pyjamas and the liberating short skirts, so practical for running, all created not just a look, but an attitude, making fashion a game. Jetting across the globe with her hectic career – but still combining it most successfully with contented home life – is the real magic of the legend who set the style of the Sixties, as I am about to discover in 1981.
A quiet grey-walled house in the heart of the English countryside isn’t the first place you would think of looking for that dynamic designer, MARY QUANT. But it’s her necessary antidote to the stress and hard work, as she “wouldn’t live in London again for all the tea in China.” With tall, distinguished and immaculately dressed fashion entrepreneur husband, Alexander Plunket-Greene, she bought the house around 1970, and for the first five years only used it as a weekender. But says Mary, “That didn’t really work.
It made life so complicated, as everything was always in the wrong place. So it’s easier to live in the country and commute daily to our London Office.” But what about the constant overseas flights? “Ah, no problem, we’re no further from the airport than our London townhouse.”
The tranquillity and rustic cosiness here highlight the couple’s passions: Alexander’s geraniums (see greenhouse) and Mary’s gardens. But when Mary first met Alexander, her art college sweetheart in 1953, “it was lust at first sight,” she admits. Now the family adore the outdoor life with most meals under the trees or in the sunny greenhouse, even for lunch in the winter, and they love the breathtaking views with hills perfect for tobogganing and 11-year-old son, Orlando camping at the back of the gardens resembling a forest.
“I look after the gardens myself, except for a chap coming over occasionally to cut the grass. But everybody does help me, even my Mum. I never tire of this undulating, cosy country. I grow a mixture of apples, peaches, nectarines and apricots, as well as vegetables and herbs.” The most commercial butterfly of all time, London born Mary, as thin in 1981 as ever, also sells wine, shoes, sheets, ties, hats, scarves, carpets and general household goods. She woos the world with her provocative up-to-the-minute-makeup empire, exceeding £75 million pounds last year, has sold lip gloss to Saudi Arabian women and perfumes to Nigerian men and is credited with inventing the duvet and the Daisy Doll.
After 25 years of marriage, Mary and Alexander, now both in their mid-forties are still working together. In 1988 Mary, who named the miniskirt after her favourite car, will design the interior of it, the Mini 1000. It will feature black and white striped seats, with red trimmings, red seat belts, her signature on passenger and driver’s seats and bonnet badge with ‘Mary Quant’ over the signature name.
The steering wheel will even display Mary’s signature daisy. Headlight housings, wheel arches, door handles and bumpers will all be all in nimbus grey rather than the standard chrome or black finishes, and 2000 of those Minis will be released in the U.K. in just two colours: jet black and diamond white.
Although she will win the coveted 1990 Hall of Fame Award, it will be a sad year for Mary, the widow, with Alexander’s passing – just 57 years old. In 2000 Mary will resign from Mary Quant Ltd, with a Japanese buy-out with more than 300 Mary Quant Colour shops in Japan. By 2011 she will have published her 5th book – her 2nd autobiography. And in February 2020 she will be 76. Happy, Happy Birthday Mary!
She is referenced in Popular Culture in songs, musicals, and pop artist, Peter Blake added Mary to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, celebrating British cultural icons during his own life. What a long way the girl has come, whose first job in the rag trade was ironing veils for £2.50 Pounds a week.