x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The instant expert: Mary Quant

This week Gemma Champ looks at the life and times of the UK fashion designer, Mary Quant, who was born on this day in 1934.

Float through any social event with M's fast facts. This week Gemma Champ looks at the life and times of the UK fashion designer Mary Quant, who was born on this day in 1934.

THE BASICS The queen bee of Sixties fashion, the designer Mary Quant was responsible for popularising some of the archetypal looks from the decade in which style had too much fun to remember anything. She could count among her courtiers the likes of Twiggy and Vidal Sassoon, and she herself was the epitome of the high-fashion mod (as opposed to the skinhead mod).

MINI DISAGREEMENT As with all momentous inventions (the bicycle, electricity, the telephone), there is some debate as to who first came up with the miniskirt. Was it the space-age couturier Courrèges? The oft-neglected British designer Robert Bates (he of Diana Rigg's catsuit fame)? The consensus is that Quant, the daughter of Welsh schoolteachers, first introduced the tiny garment - and named it after her favourite car, the Mini.

HOW BAZAAR Quite. Her shop in Chelsea's King's Road, Bazaar, opened in 1955 with her business partner and husband-to-be, Alexander Plunket Greene, was the source of her fame. Frequented by pop stars and models, it made cutting-edge fashion available at a relatively affordable price to swinging London. The mod style - stark palettes, pared-back A-line shapes, daring hemlines and sharp-as-a-knife haircuts - was synonymous with Quant's boutique.

VIDAL STATISTICS Quant's personal image, as she painted the town groovy, was as influential as the clothes she designed. Her trademark geometric Sassoon barnet helped popularise the legendary hairdresser's precise, if unforgiving, styles. Luckily, Quant had the angular bone structure to carry off the severe look, making the beehive seem as dreadfully old-fashioned as a knee-length wiggle skirt.

YEAH, YEAH, YEAH! Those minuscule frocks wouldn't suit just anyone, but Quant could call on the leggiest and loveliest models of the decade to display her designs to best advantage, from Twiggy to Jean Shrimpton. And where there are models, there are invariably rock stars and photographers. The Beatles, David Bailey and all of London's beautiful people buzzed around Quant's fashionable hive.

PUT THE BOOT IN If your skirt is soaring around the thighs, a lot of attention is diverted to the shoes. Quant Afoot, the designer's footwear line, cornered the market in plastic go-go boots and Chelsea boots. Launched in 1967, these boots were made for walking in the British weather - and left daisy imprints behind them in the mud.

A TIGHT SPOT While the miniskirt was all about liberation, there was one problem: with bare legs a no-no in the Sixties, nice girls didn't want their stockings and suspenders on display. Tights (or pantyhose) became essential to a woman's wardrobe, and Quant stamped her style on this little item too, with colourful, patterned versions to go perfectly with those minidresses.

PERSONALLY SPEAKING The Instant Expert, incidentally, inherited a pair of original Mary Quant tights in silver Lurex from her mother; sadly, Lycra engineering was in its infancy then, so they kept falling down over her kinky boots. It was a terrible sight to behold.

HOT! HOT! HOT! After the mini and the pop stars, could Quant's profile get any higher? Well, the hemlines did, as she introduced another miniature marvel: hot pants.

QUITE CONTRARY Quant outrageously wore a miniskirt to collect her OBE at Buckingham Palace; in 2000 was involved in a public spat with the new owners of her label, who are from Japan; and at the height of her fame admitted to some controversial grooming that does not bear repeating in a family magazine.

 

Five other 1960s fashion pioneers

PIERRE CARDIN Introduced the Nehru jacket; played around with lapels, cuffs and collars in menswear; and used all kinds of astounding fabrics and shapes for womenswear. Licensed his name to more than 800 products, paving the way for others to similarly dilute their own brands.

OLEG CASSINI Not an avant-garde visionary, but his suits and gowns for Jackie Kennedy exerted a major influence on fashion that continues today.

TOMMY NUTTER The dandy who scandalised Savile Row with his modern tailoring and adventurous fabrics dressed three of the Beatles for the Abbey Road album cover, opened up the male-only street to women and is said to have invented bell-bottomed jeans.

PACO RABANNE What didn't he come up with? Paper dresses, chain-mail dresses and space-age dresses, not to mention the costumes for the definitive Sixties film Barbarella. Was the first couture designer to use black models on the catwalk.

YVES SAINT LAURENT The innovative YSL created the 1966 tuxedo suit, Le Smoking. Now it's a wardrobe staple, but in the 1960s it was considered decadent.