Sunday, 26 May 2019

Swinging London at the Fashion and Textile Museum

You wait ages for a Mary Quant exhibition, and then two come along at once! However whereas the current exhibition at the V&A is solely about the designer, Swinging London: A Lifestyle Revolution places her in the context of the group of designers known as the Chelsea Set, who aimed to shake up contemporary design in 1950s-60s London.

While the exhibition focusses on Quant and Terence Conran, it includes other designers from the period as well. The first room is devoted to work by print designer Natalie Gibson, who worked with Conran in the early 1960s. This tea towel looked oddly familiar, but I don't think that we actually had one at home; it's just that it's so utterly of its period.

Those colours! That design!

Unlike previous exhibitions I've been to at the venue, this one is not just about clothes and textiles; it includes furniture, lighting and homewares as well.

Conran table and cabinet, dresses 'Bazaar by Mary Quant', lamp by Bernard Schottlander

'Cone' chair by Terence Conran, clothing by Mary Quant

Conran furniture, dresses from 'Mary Quant London', lamp by Bernard Schottlander

I recognized the dress in this display as being made by Horrockses, in a fabric designed by Eduardo Paolozzi.

Both dress (by John Tullis) and fabric date from 1953

By 1960 Quant and her husband, Alexander Plunket Greene were sufficiently well-known to feature in this advertisement for 'Long Life', Britain's first canned beer (no, me neither).

Quant and Plunket Greene - People who set today's trends

Despite Long Life being described in the exhibition as representing "modernity, youth and and the new affluent celebrity lifestyle", the promotional textile seems to regard modernity as 'woman gets beer out of fridge, and man mows lawn'. Hmm!

Close-up of two of the fabric's vignettes

In 1961 Quant began working with the U.S. department store J C Penny, and created ranges for them for 11 years.

Mary Quant clothing for J C Penny

Both Conran and Quant looked to the British mass market in the 1960s, with Mary Quant setting up Ginger Group in 1963 and Terence Conran opening the first Habitat shop a year later.

A selection of Habitat homewares

Conran 'Peacock' chair sold by Habitat c1967, clothing by Mary Quant Ginger group

I have always associated the name Laura Ashley with flowery cotton dresses, so was very surprised by this display of her early work with her husband Bernard.

Clothing and printed fabrics by Bernard and Laura Ashley

Apart from the Ashleys' display, the upstairs part of the exhibition is all about Mary Quant.

Mary Quant coats of various labels from the 1960s, in colour. . .

. . . and in black and white

There is a small section on designers she admired, and others whose aesthetic was in tune with her own.

l-r Jean Muir dress, Chanel suit, coat and dress by Cardin, dress by Courreges

Last but by no means least, there is a section on dress patterns. Quant created her first collection for Butterick in 1964, and worked with them for around a decade. (I actually have the pattern for the green dress, but can't imagine ever making it up, as a strong horizontal line across the hips is not a good look for me!)

Mini-catalogue of patterns from 1967

A selection of Mary Quant patterns for Butterick

Swinging London runs until 2 June, while Mary Quant at the V&A runs until February 2020.

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