But for one family, the story of Mary Quant has a particularly personal resonance – and helped spark the creation of a major retrospective of the designer’s work.
Opening at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum on Saturday, Mary Quant: Fashion Revolutionary is the final chance to see the international exhibition, which features more than 100 garments, accessories, cosmetics, and photographs drawn from the V&A collections, Dame Mary Quant’s archive and many private collections.
One of those private collections came to London’s V&A museum thanks to a donation from Linda Kirby and her mother Dorothy.
Linda’s godmother was Pamela Howard Mace, who was part of a tight-knit team at Mary Quant, working for Dame Mary as her “right hand woman” and PA before becoming design director in 1968 until the late 1970s.
When Pamela died in 2008, Linda was executor of her will and, while clearing out her godmother’s London home, found two large locked trunks in the garage.
Using “brute force” to open the trunks, Linda uncovered an extensive collection of Mary Quant clothes carefully preserved inside.
“They must have been there for years and were all cobwebby,” Linda said.
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. I knew they were important.”
Pamela had lived in west London for years and the V&A was her favourite museum so Linda contacted archivist Jenny Lister to see if they might like the clothes as a donation.
“It felt quite a responsibility,” Linda added, “Because I felt I ought to keep the pieces together but that they should be seen by more people.
“It was a lovely responsibility because Pam was so stylish.”
Linda and a friend lugged the two huge suitcases to the V&A on the tube where Jenny and two other archivists unpacked the treasure trove of clothes.
Linda and her mother Dorothy were in Glasgow to see the final touches being placed on the exhibition before it opens on Saturday.
The city is the final stop for the retrospective, which has travelled as far afield and New Zealand and Japan and had been viewed by more than one million visitors.
It is, the women say, a fitting tribute both to Dame Mary, who died last month at the age of 93, and to their beloved Pamela.
Dorothy and Pamela met at Bromley Grammar School in Kent as girls aged 12 and formed a lifelong friendship.
Dorothy said: “Pamela really became part of our family. We just grew up together and spent most of our teenage years together. My mother was her mother.
“She didn’t have children so when I had Linda I said, ‘You can share mine’.”
Pamela left school at 16 and went to work for the magazine Home Notes.
She was renowned for her sense of style from a young age, spending her clothing coupons in post-war London on outfits that were the envy of her school friends.
Dorothy, who was wearing a string of her friend’s pearls to visit the exhibition, remembers it vividly. “She bought a little boxy royal blue jacket and a dove grey New Look skirt, which we were very envious of at the time.”
Linda, wearing her godmother’s bracelet, added: “I remember someone at the funeral saying she was so stylish she would put her lovely cashmere jumper and trousers on just to put the bins out.”
At the age of 19, Pamela moved to the then-Rhodesia, and worked for the country’s prime minister but she and Dorothy stayed in touch by letter.
On her return to London she took up the job as Mary Quant’s PA where she worked closely with Heather Tilbury Phillips, a former Director of Mary Quant Limited and Advisor to the V&A on the exhibition.
“Pam and I naturally were very close,” Heather said. “We had interconnecting offices and were in and out of each others’ offices constantly.
“We were best friends too but our team of six – Mary, her husband Alexander Plunket Greene, their business partner Archie McNairn and his director – were like a family.
“We would bounce ideas off each other at lunch and sit together with a glass of wine at the end of the day. It was very equitable but absolutely frenetic.”
Heather, who started work at Mary Quant in 1970, said there was an awareness that outside music, fashion, art and the media were changing but they had no sense at the time of what a vital part of British fashion history they were creating.
In recent years Heather increasingly felt that the media and the fashion industry had overlooked the legacy of Mary Quant so began researching a book – and approached the V&A about an exhibition.
She becomes quite overwhelmed at the fact the retrospective has been seen in so many countries by so many people.
“I think Mary would be shyly overwhelmed with appreciation.” And how does Heather feel? “Ditto. I am enormously grateful that the V&A has produced such an enormously fitting tribute to her genius.
“I have to tell you, it’s quite emotional. Particularly to see some of the film clips because I would have been there when they were shooting.”
Mary Quant: Fashion Revolutionary focuses on the years from 1955, when Quant opened her experimental boutique Bazaar on the King’s Road, Chelsea.
It tells the story of the ground-breaking brand through the Swinging Sixties, when Mary Quant was awarded her OBE, to 1975 and the period when Dame Mary revolutionised the high street with subversive and playful designs.
Sections of the exhibition look at the shift from couture to mass market designer fashion with the launch of the Ginger Group; how she moved fashion forward by going back and embracing the textile industry at the very heart of British manufacturing; the way Mary Quant ‘borrowed from the boys’ and manipulated menswear to challenge the conventional gender stereotypes of the day.
Famous for popularising extra high hem lines, the exhibition goes on to explore the story of the miniskirt, dressmaking patterns, make-up, and accessories that all showcased the iconic daisy logo.
The exhibition also features stories of women who responded to the V&A’s #WeWantQuant campaign, a public call-out to locate rare garments by Quant and collect personal stories, memories and photographs from real people who wore her clothes, including several Scottish contributors.
Linda added: “Pam was a lovely, lovely godmother and we became good friends when I was an adult.
“She would be absolutely stunned and thrilled that this exhibition has happened. She would have loved to have seen this, she would have been amazed.
“She must have known these were important because no other clothes were in there.
“I think it really is incredible and is a great legacy to my godmother. I’m really, really pleased that the donation has been able to form part of an exhibition and travel to New York and New Zealand and Tokyo.
“The call out from the public shows how much people treasured these clothes, and loved them and how important they are to their lives. It’s just a shame that Aunty Pam can’t be here to enjoy it.
“She had an extravagant and wonderful life, much like Mary Quant.”
Mary Quant: Fashion Revolutionary runs until October 22, 2023.
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