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NEW YORK — Mary Quant is having a moment. Again.
This story first appeared in the February 20, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The legendary Sixties designer, oft credited with inventing the mini, is enjoying a renaissance as of late given the prevalence of Mod looks in store for spring. It doesn’t stop there, however; fall runway looks are also heavily referencing Quant’s swinging styles.
And all the fuss simply bemuses Quant, who has ridden several such revivals in the past 40 years.
“It’s very peculiar,” said Quant, looking spry and youthful despite her 69 years. “It’s very nice, it feels great. With the revolution of the Sixties, Mod went through an evolution. With the pill women started having real careers, and it was a huge change.
“They made their own choices and the fruition of all that is here. Now women have tremendous careers, families and very complex lives — and they’re in such good nic (shape), they go to the gym, and they’ve got nice legs. So, it’s a very natural process. They’re saying ‘Isn’t life great and isn’t it wonderful to be a woman?’
“Fashion rules are gone. The mini has evolved. It is infinitely renewable. Although it is simple, it is a very strong look.”
One store that picked up on the mood earlier was Henri Bendel, which is mounting a Quant revival of its own. The retailer has installed a Mary Quant cosmetics counter on its ground floor as well as carved out a niche on its second floor for the designer’s relaunched line of ready-to-wear and accessories. And tonight, Quant is being feted at the store to herald its launch of those collections.
“There is an enormous amount of Mary Quant-inspired fashion being shown both on the New York and London runways so far,” said Ed Burstell, vice president and general manager of Henri Bendel, pointing to designers from Marc Jacobs and Tommy Hilfiger in New York to Roland Mouret and Emma Cook in London.
“The time is right for Mary Quant now — it evokes happier memories,” said Burstell.
This will mark the first time in recent years that Quant will sell her goods in the U.S. outside of her own New York boutique. “We were doing little pieces, but it’s becoming more and more important and people love it, so we’re doing more,” said Quant, of her newly relaunched ready-to-wear collection.
Burstell picked up on the potential demand for Quant fashions some time ago, a feeling that was reinforced when he went to Japan.
“We try to read the cultural mood, and we have our network that lets us know the direction of shifts,” he said. “And about 12 or 18 months ago, that was Mary Quant. You could just see it and feel it coming — that whole rebirth of Mary Quant.
“When I was last in Tokyo, it was great to see these Japanese girls walking around with the Mary Quant daisy on. They are so tuned into the trends, it really validated it when I saw it on the streets there.”
For her part, Quant is excited to be in business with Bendel’s. “They are the perfect store to work with. The Mary Quant windows they’ve done are brilliant. Plus it’s a very girly store, and they enjoy fashion there. Their customers know how to handle fashion and use it for themselves.”
For spring, Quant is naturally featuring the mini. “The minis are shorter than ever with lots of color and very leggy. There’s no age limit with it; it depends on how good your legs are. That’s the only rule.”
The iconic designer opened her first U.S. store in 1998 and also has boutiques in London and Paris along with hundreds throughout Asia. Quant sold the company, which is now called Mary Quant Cosmetics Ltd. Japan, in 1986 — which is largely why the production of both Mary Quant cosmetics and apparel is done in Japan.
Quant began her career in fashion in the late Fifties, when she and her husband, Alexander Plunkett-Greene, began opening a chain of boutiques called Bazaar. Young hipsters in search of trends like high boots, brightly hued tights and simple short shifts flocked to her store in Chelsea. The Swinging Sixties were driven, at least in fashion, by Quant and other designers of that decade like Barbara Hulanicki of Biba, who added a riot of color and sex to a fashion world coming out of the drab, poor, post-war Fifties. Stores and cafes popped up in the areas of King’s Road and Carnaby Street to cater to London’s hip set, from Jean Shrimpton to Mick Jagger. Quant also designed a line of clothes for J.C. Penney from 1963 to 1968.
Forty years later, Quant’s fashion philosophy hasn’t veered too far off course. “It has evolved,” she said. “It has developed from that explosive, revolutionary breakthrough that had never happened before.”
Now, Quant’s fashions are housed on the second floor of Henri Bendel with other contemporary brands such as D&G, Joie and Paul & Joe. Prices for the rtw fall in the $98-to-$198 bracket.
As for prices of the color cosmetics line, Burstell said: “It’s pretty competitive, although it needs a little fine-tuning. But because we’re such a color store, we should do really well with it.”
According to industry sources, the store has the potential to do $500,000 in Mary Quant cosmetics and another $500,00 in ready-to-wear and accessories its first year out.
“It’s not just re-creating fashion that was available then,” noted Burstell. “If you’re looking for a retread, this isn’t it. The spirit is there, but she didn’t re-create it, she’s designed something brand new.”