Even if you’ve never heard Mary Quant’s name, you’re definitely familiar with her work—the miniskirt, the hotpants, the alternating black and white handbags, the mod eyeshadow, and the daisy branding are enduring pieces in the fashion industry. The British fashion designer and icon has had an undeniable influence on the state of contemporary fashion. Quant, the official biographical film about the designer, offers up the chance to get to know her work and the history surrounding it with more intimacy than ever before.
Quant worked as a designer in London and rose to prominence during the 1960s. She was one of the pioneers of the iconic mod look, and is credited with inventing the mini skirt (as well as the colourful and oddly patterned tights that were occasionally worn under them). Her career is closely intertwined with the second-wave of feminism, and many of the styles she sold are described in the documentary as liberating for young women. Mary Quant was a pillar of the youthquake that shook up the sixties.
Throughout the film, various other influential figures in the fashion industry discuss Quant’s impact. 90s supermodel, Kate Moss, designer Vivienne Westwood, whose work would later influence 1970s punk movement, and the Kinks’ guitarist Dave Davies are among those who describe Quant’s impact, and her lasting legacy. Camilla Rutherford also plays Mary Quant in some reconstruction moments, and brings out that playful, youthful energy that was so central to her public identity.
Director Sadie Frost employs a mix of talking heads, archive footage, and reconstructive scenes to tell this story. Having Quant’s own descriptions throughout the film is helpful in developing an understanding of her perspective, as the now-retired designer does not appear for interviews. The archive footage that captures Quant in her element is so cheeky and revealing, and is a rare peek into a period of innovation.
The soundtrack to the film also brings the rebellious nature of the 60s to life. The Who, The Kinks, and Florence + The Machine all contribute a bit of toe-tapping rock and roll.
There are some important notes that the film and Quant herself make about fashion. Perhaps the most resonant point is that “fashion is not frivolous.” Though it’s clear that designing is a space for fun and discovery to Quant, she’s adamant that the wearer of her clothes be taken seriously in their dress. This feels like a point we’re still wrestling with—that clothing and presentation should not affect whether a person is shown respect or not. Quant’s assertions are some to hold onto in this regard.
The film goes beyond Quant’s work to explore the social and political setting of the 60s too. This fleshes out the background of the inventive shifts from Mary Quant’s work, and brings a sense of urgency to the roll out of these newer, freer designs. This lens opens the film up to fashion lovers and newbies alike.
In some of the archive footage, a disapproving old fart strolling down the street says, “Well, I can’t say I particularly approve of some of the styles.” That’s probably a quote that would make Mary Quant very happy, and a sentiment that is certainly not unfamiliar to our rebellious forms of dressing more. That’s the most exciting aspect of this documentary—better understanding of where Quant sits within the larger culture of resistance through dress.