PICKING UP THE PIECES WITH PASSION

MARY QUANT is my inspiration for the third in this series of ideas for the future. We met after a shop-within-a-shop launch in Brown’s of Chester when I travelled with her and her business partner, husband, Alexander Plunket Greene to Manchester Airport. He was full of bright ideas on how to pick up the Fashion industry during an economic downturn.

Now we’re in the midst of a recession, you know, we need sharp clothes rather than peasant looks to underpin an optimistic outlook.” he told me.

REALLY it was his wife’s ingenuity which was the key to their success. He praised it saying, “Mary and her team are like French couturiers. We don’t take great whacks out of the business. Our first motive is a passionate interest in the goods.”

Journalism reveals Mary Quant’s importance as a guide for those who follow. When designer, Luella Bartley, was interviewed and photographed with Quant, for Vogue’s 90th anniversary, in 2009, she held that the Fashion industry could learn much from Quant by Quant, her idol’s own record of events.

Before Bartley launched her own international Fashion label she had read the autobiography five times. First published in 1966, when she was just 30 years of age, it chronicles Quant’s early life, her Fashion projects and inventions and is one of very few, if any, books to have Profit margins and Stock difficulties listed in its index.

mq 3Here Anton Storey captures the moment when Luella Bartley met her idol at a David Bailey photoshoot for the Vogue anniversary feature. There’s no surprise she was, as she said, ‘fizzing with excitement.’

The birth of the Cult of Cool

AFTER months of misery the Fashion industry usually fights back and there is delight in dressing up and going out.  Paris, with its years of austerity, rationing and separation, during WW2, was revitalised by Christian Dior, Art director, dilettante, Europe’s other famous Norman.

With four years of Nazi rule Paris, ‘city of lights,’ was dim, but after liberation by the American forces there was the discovery of be-bop. It swept the city and black Americans stayed on, rather than return to the segregated USA.

On the streets the cult of cool was about to be born, and women wanted a designer to help them shake off the ‘horrible overalls’ and the boxy shapes of war-time clothes. They wanted to look sexy and feminine. It was then, in February 1947, that 30, Avenue Montaigne would become the world headquarters of Fashion.

Half a century before the internet Christian Dior, who had spent much of the war dressing the wives of Nazi officers and French collaborators, revived pre-war looks for post-war customers targeted at Hollywood’s world wide audience. He created feminised ‘flower women,’ happy to turn their backs on careers and military uniforms.

NewLookDior’s New Look, in 1947, made every other dress look outmoded. There was an electric tension – ‘wasp waist of jacket, weight of skirt barely worn by human beings, real old fashioned corsets to create shape,’ in direct contrast to the 40s look.

Christian Dior’s publicity machine was so effective that in a Vogue feature, proposing numerous routes through Europe by car by inventive motorists, Dior was featured by the magazine rather in the way Alexandra Shulman writes of Victoria Beckham for Vogue UK, April 2008.

Dior’s New Look was very good for fabric manufacturers, and especially good for his sponsor, Marcell Bussac. The ‘Bar’ suit, famously photographed by Willy Maywald. With its padded, static jacket and its heavy 80lbs, long, black wool pleated skirt, depended for its sculptural form on the 19th century skills of the corset maker.   Coco Chanel said of her rival: “Christian Dior doesn’t dress women. He upholsters them”.

Dior became the ‘master of marketing;’ selling perfumes, and realising the ‘importance of the public identifying with the designer.’ Dior had his personal and business journeys mapped and followed by the Media, becoming the first celebrity couturier. Recognising the importance of trade between the House and buyers by 1948, he and his team include Cuba, Finland, Holland, Mexico, and Sweden in their contact lists. When Bettina Ballard, the journalist who was editor-in-chief of Vogue, America in the 1950s, heard that designs were being geared towards department store owners’ wives she said, “I would not put it past Dior!”

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The recovery of the French Fashion industry was in the hands of Dior, who saved haute couture in the face of a ‘growing market of ready to wear, especially in the United States’. Paris was put into a position where it was also able to set the template for London couture and Fashion training. During the war there was the fear that American design would take over. So the Paris group, Chambre Syndicale, put together ‘Theatre de la Mode,’ a collection of dolls which were on display during the V&A exhibition in London. Said, to have been designed to raise funds for war victims they, really, were commissioned to raise the profile of Haute Couture.

MARY QUANT: Genius in action at London’s swinging V&A!

THERE’S  magic at a Mary Quant exhibition this Spring.  Quant is revealed as a genius of the Modern age in an exemplary experience at London’s V&A. Curator Jenny Lister, captures the enchantment and excitement inspired by the British designer just over half a century ago.  

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At the V&A Jenny Lister shows Quant in action, illustrating  her skills and success, with  spectacular displays of clothes from fans’ collections and donations; stylish people who’ve loved Quant since before influential 60s journalist Ernestine Carter wrote:

It is given to a fortunate few to be born at the right time, in the right place, with the right talents. In recent fashion there are three: Chanel, Dior and Mary Quant.

Travelling with Quant and her husband Alexander Plunket Green from Chester to Manchester airport in 1981, I was meeting a Fashion phenomenon.  After 25 years of continuing international success APG spontaneously praised her exceptional talent,

Mary and her team are like French couturiers. We don’t take great whacks out of the business. Our first motive is a passionate interest in the goods”.

My play for Radio 4, Thoroughly Modern Mary dramatises these early years, questioning the power balance between the Plunket Greens.  At the V&A there is new evidence to back my plotting. In dynamic film footage the couple are seen in their offices and studios running their international Fashion house in the 1960s.  APG is filmed directing staff, guiding them to assist in the operation, while Mary researches, designs, philosophises about Fashion and its impact on society. He is obviously in her thrall as he witnesses genius in action!

It was the British Post Office which confirmed Quant’s greatness when they put a little black dress on a series of stamps in 2009. No one was more surprised than Mary Quant when she found herself being celebrated with 20th century Modernists but this is exactly where she should be positioned.

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She was at the heart of the Modernist momentum and it took British Post Office to identify her worldwide influence. She was much too close to see she was interpreting an international movement. At the time of the second Bazaar opening she wrote:

“Fashion is the product of a thousand and one different things. It is a whole host of elusive ideas, influences, cross-currents and economic factors, captured into a shape and dominated by two things….impact on others, fun for oneself. It is unpredictable, indefinable. It is successful only when a woman gets a kick out of what she is wearing; when she feels marvelous and looks marvelous.”

Identifying herself with the characteristics of Modernity, Quant sees it encouraging change, embracing technologies which would make life more enjoyable for men and women:

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“It is the Mods…the direct opposite of the Rockers (who seem to be anti-everything)…who gave the dress trade the impetus to break through the fast-moving, breathtaking, up-rooting revolution in which we have played a part since the opening of Bazaar.”

For some of the forty years since his Bazaar liaison David Wynne Morgan, was chairman of Hill and Knowlton, Madmen archetype in New York. He was still working in Fashion when I met him. His first words on Quant, in December 2006, were, ‘She’s a genius’.

Staff at the V&A, delighted with the current show’s enchanting glamour agree, with  Wynne Morgan and me, that we are indeed witnessing a life and works of pure brilliance.

 

Daisy

 

 

 

 

A day in the life of an ‘Elite Athlete!’

LOVED my breakfast –  homemade smoothie with frozen strawberries, natural yoghurt, oats, honey, frozen banana, protein powder and a scoop of creatine. It took so long I don’t think I’ll make it through the traffic! My gym is in Canary Wharf and I need to get across town.

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Not to worry! Put on my trusty Nike; bike across, work out with their anti gravity treadmill.  Consult with exercise medics, specialist physiothereapists  and their divine super conditioning coach.  He’ll love this look.

At Third Space I’ll unwind on their sprint tracks, and try out the aromatic juniper log glass saunas and hot yoga studios. Shall it be Tower Bridge, Soho, Marylebone?  Must check with Tony to see where we’ll meet for healthy low alcohol cocktails, later!

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Today I’m for complete total toning so I can escape to heaven in my JW Anderson collection! These Laboutins work best with toned legs and taut/toned core and don’t I know it!

All that effort for hours of controlled torture and lashings of Paparazzi!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shocking confessions of a bibliophile

She surrounds herself with the talented ‘whose job is to translate her themes, concepts and especially her taste into clothes that bear the Prada name’.

My mother was wearing a full-skirted dress, patterned with tiny, white, dancing sailors when she told me about Elsa Schiaparelli, the Surrealist artist, who designed and sold Fashion.

On ‘Woman’s Hour,’ some time later, I heard that Schiaparelli’s,  Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibition, 2003, catalogue was on sale.  I asked for it, as a Christmas present.  Large format, in  her signature  Shocking Pink, written by Dilys E. Blum, it became an influences on how I would write about Fashion, soon to be featured in ‘Vivienne Westwood and Anglomania at the Met.’

Now, as I set off on a crazy schedule of book signings, things have come full circle. That little gem of on-line journalism, Hint Magazine, tells of exciting plans to make New York Metropolitan Museum’s next  show,  live up  to the the sensation of  Alexander McQueen’s ‘Savage Beauty’.

News is that Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada will be  dual subjects of next year’s exhibition.  Both Italian divas are favourites of mine; probably because of Prada’s politics and my early introduction to Elsa, and her defining pink begonias.

The show will mix Schiaparelli’s surreal oeuvre from the late twenties to early fifties with Prada’s work from the late eighties to today. The high-tech angle is that Amazon, will set up an imagined conversation, with topics ranging from art to politics.  It will take on views from ‘FASHION MEDIA PROMOTION  the new black magic,’ that  Schiaparelli ‘offered a unique take on fashion, favoring wit over traditional glamour.’   Is it zeitgeist or have I a follower in  Andrew Bolton, from the Met?

Below: the inventive genius Schiaparelli put on a spectacle, only loosely related to shopping, when she brought her aristocratic vision to Paris in 1927.

I will try to throw light on these questions at WATERSTONE’S signings: Manchester, Deansgate, Thursday 27th, October, 7pmLondon, Covent Garden, Monday 7th, November, 6pm. London, Oxford Street Plaza, Wednesday 9th November, 12noon to 2pm. Sheffield, Orchard Square, Thursday 17th November, 5pm.