My Mary Quant gem: women on fashion that stood the test of time

Marion Morrison: ‘My mac must be one of the most travelled pieces of Mary Quant’

Donated her white PVC front-zip mac, 1966, to the V&A exhibition

In 1967 I set off with my husband, Tony, to make films about South and Central America. We made films in the High Andes, the Amazon. We filmed the rarest flamingo down in the Amazon and the Nazca Lines in Peru. We knew setting off that we had to have a certain amount of smart clothes, things that would make a statement. That mac was packed in a small suitcase along with my husband’s one-and-only suit, and went to eight capitals in South America. It must be one of the most travelled pieces of Mary Quant.

Marion Morrison wearing her beloved mac.

Photograph: Marion Morrison

Before filming I was working for the National Union of Students sending volunteers overseas. I wasn’t earning a lot of money, that’s for sure, but I think I got the mac from Selfridges. You just felt you had to have some Mary Quant to be part of everything that was going on. I think women did see her as a role model. She wasn’t much older than us youngsters and she was phenomenally successful. Her designs were so different from anything that had gone before. We got out of drab school uniforms and she came along with these lovely short skirts that made you feel sexy and free. Today I wouldn’t think the coat was practical, but it did the journey. People in South America knew about the Beatles, they knew about the culture of London and the swinging 60s were all over, so the mac was a statement and it kicked off a certain relationship with people. They didn’t come up to you and say, “Is that Mary Quant?” but there was a rapport. The only thing that was wrong was that it was packed so many times that the creases where it was folded started to show. It became a bit brittle. When the dear old mac wore out, the zip that ran the front of the coat still worked, so I couldn’t possibly throw that away. It was the economy of the day. And I still have it.

Angela Bailey: ‘I’d still wear it if I could get into it’

Donated her dropped-waist dress, 1972

Angela Bailey photograph

Photograph: Angela Bailey

I acquired this through a swap with the mother of one of my daughter’s classmates in the early 70s. As I recall, she really liked a coat I had and said she’d had this dress for some time – I thought it was very special. It just said everything to me that a daytime outfit by Mary Quant should say. The quality of the fabric is super; it’s got a pleated skirt and you turn in it and it swings just so. I’d still wear it if I could get into it. I own two other Mary Quant dresses.

In Suffolk, where I grew up, the cool thing was to be small and blond and conventionally pretty, the Doris Day look. As a teenager, I was already 5ft 10in and I had unruly dark hair. I took one look at Mary Quant and it was the Vidal Sassoon hairstyle that got me first. I knew that look was for me. The clothes weren’t inexpensive; I was a sales girl at Fortnum & Mason in 1966 and tights cost £1, so from a £6-a-week salary that’s quite a lot.

I worked at Fortnum & Mason for a year before I went to Goldsmiths college. Fortnum’s held a fashion show while I worked there and a Mary Quant model was in it. She was so bubbly and stylish and everything I wanted to be. We sold André Courrèges [co-credited with Quant with inventing the mini-skirt] boots too, but I wasn’t so interested in his clothes. They seemed self-consciously modern, whereas Mary Quant outfits – you could walk, you could go anywhere and feel relaxed.

I’ve always loved fashion. I got pregnant and married at the end of my first year at college then ended up as a single mum with a young child. I was working as a nursery teacher when I made the swap for this dress. Now I’m fortunate to be married to someone who is a smart dresser and who understands how much I love clothes. Together we have a very large shoe cupboard.

Claire Fiander: ‘Wearing Quant was part of breaking away from my parents’

Donated her Liberty-print smocked dress, 1967

Claire Fiander

Photograph: Claire Fiander

My mother sent me up to London to buy something “a bit nicer” because I’d just left school. So I went to Fenwick and saw this. I knew it was a step up, she was the go-to trendy designer at the time who was still affordable. It was the sort of thing I could attend a cocktail party in, at which I might meet a nice young man, like my mother wanted. I shortened it by about a foot when I bought it and then I lived and died in it and felt my best in it.

I was a nice Surrey private school girl and my mother had hopes for me. I went to secretarial college in South Molton Street straight from school, the way certain girls did – it was almost like a finishing school. I also went to the Cherry Marshall modelling school and I wore it to do runway practise.

Quant was the start of all the 60s stuff in the Kings Road, which I used to trot up and down. She did the dolly bird thing, the kooky posture, the girl about town. I was on the tail end of that, but it was part of my awakening. I broke away from my traditional parents who lived in the country and I never looked back.

I got a job at Jaeger, then married my first husband and had my own fashion business until I had children. After I got divorced I went back to the design industry. At 68, I still love fashion. I’ve got over so many things. I got over ponies, boys – I don’t want to go through that again – but I still love fashion. Quant’s clothes were a different sort of sexy: they were fresh and clean and graphic. I like that attitude and I think it’s gone all through my life.

Jenny Fenwick: ‘It was so special – ginger lace with satin cuffs and applique daisies’

Donated her lace dress (below left), 1964

Jenny Fenwick

Photograph: Jenny Fenwick

I kept this dress because it was my first ever designer dress. I am such a hoarder but some things are special. This was so special and a little different – most of Mary Quant designs were monochrome, but this is ginger lace with satin cuffs and applique daisies. I’ve always wanted to be different. I’m 71 now and I still, hopefully, dress a little bit differently. I was very fashion conscious at school and I bought the dress in the sixth form. The Quant designs weren’t like anything that had happened before. They were different from my mother’s which was the biggie – because back then you dressed like your mother. But my mum wore American tan – and my Mary Quant tights were white with daisies on.

I wanted to dress like that because it was all about the swinging 60s – the music, the clubs. I come from a small north Nottinghamshire town, and Sheffield was where it all happened. With the start of the club scene I wanted to look good. We went to Peter Stringfellow’s Black Cat, the Blue Moon and the King Mojo, which opened in 1964. We’d go after school in duffle coats and Hush Puppies to the coffee-bar scene – The Sidewalk was where we met on Saturday afternoon for coffee.

There weren’t many outlets in Sheffield where you could actually buy the clothes. There was the Top Shop in Peter Robinson and there was a Wallis, but we were reliant on magazines. Honey was a massive influence – I still have the original issues from the 60s – that’s where you saw the clothes. And if you couldn’t buy them, you sewed copies of them and made the skirts as short as you could.

My parents thought it was awful. My dad would say, “Is that girl really going out like that? That skirt, Jennifer, is far too short.” But I think that’s dads through all time. Mary Quant epitomised the change of so many things at the time, liberating girls through clothes.

Mary Quant, sponsored by King’s Road, is at the V&A from 6 April 2019 until 16 February 2020


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