Review: Mary Quant at V&A

Mary Quants’ designs have always been a dazzling jewel in the V&A’s permanent fashion display (they actually have the largest Quant collection in the world!)

Vibrant, refreshing and fun, Mary Quant revolutionised sixties culture. A ground-breaker in affordable fashion, purveyor of the miniskirt and also the woman responsible for the international ‘youth quake’. In short, it’s about time Mary’s era defining work was given its own exhibition!

The self titled exhibition sits over two floors in the V&A’s main fashion exhibition space. Now, sorry to start things off on a negative but I’m not going to lie, I really hate this space. On the surface it has everything going for it, with beautiful display areas and a clear natural flow of traffic. BUT the ground floor space is really cramped once you’ve got 50-100 people in it. So as with previous fashions exhibitions in this space (Frida Kahlo, Wedding dresses and Fashioned from nature) you want to go at off peak times to avoid queuing up to see each piece. My advice would be to go weekdays if you can, as it opens, during lunch or just before closing.

The other thing to be aware of; Mary Quant is on at the same time as monster blockbuster, Dior designer of dreams. And though sold out, there are still 125 tickets available for Dior on the day, which results in some pretty mad lines at the ticket desk (I’m talking hundreds of people) Seriously, I was put in three different ques, and though we English do love a good que, this really isn’t it! Good news though, you can buy Mary Quant tickets direct at the exhibition entrance, So avoid the crush and head straight to go.

Ok with that out the way, what about the exhibition?

Oh, it’s gooooood.

Second floor of Mary Quant, via V&A

Starting from her first boutique, Balthazar, the exhibition charts how Mary changed the fashion landscape. Ironically (given what’s on down the hall) taking apart Christian Dior’s new look, of nipped in waists and corsetry and replacing it with something women on the go could actually wear and live their lives in.

In 1963 Quant expanded this ethos to her diffusion line, ‘Ginger Group’. With bold cuts, a surprising colour palette and the small fact that it was sold all over England with an affordable price tag, not to mention that the name Ginger Group is rooted in a political term for a pressure group. Unsurprising then that this label would turn fashion on its head. Taking taste making away from the elite and giving it to the girl on the high street.

I live for the burnt purple pinafore in the middle – via Victoria and Albert Museum

It’s here that the exhibition goes from what many punters probably came in for (a plethora of mini skirts and swinging sixties nostalgia) instead opting to tell the story of how Mary Quant didn’t just build a brand but a global empire.

And my god, it is fascinating!

The second floor of the exhibition explores the many, many ways Quant expanded her brand. Moving into foreign markets and transforming herself into what we may now think of as a lifestyle brand. Releasing everything from a line of patterns for home dressmakers, stockings, make up, the Daisy doll (that you could dress up in mini dolly versions of the real Quant designs) hell, I even spied some Mary Quant branded vitamins!

A taster of the expansive Mary Quant make up brand, including body gleamer (whatever that is…) via Victoria and Albert Museum

It also touches on how Quant released a special line of underwear to give women the up and down figure needed to wear her clothes. Selling tummy flattening knickers, ‘booby traps’ (btw the most terrifying name for a breast based contraption I have ever heard) and girdles.

With the slogan ‘get a birthday suit and be your own sweet self (minus six pounds)’ this section is a much needed reminder that though Quants’ designs thrived on being easy to wear and functional, many women were still having to put on constructing underwear to be fashionable (all be it constructing underwear with a cute daisy print).

Apologies, you’ll have to make do with my i-phone for this pic. Peep that full on orange and white girdle though

All in, this is a fantastic exhibition. Beautifully curated and designed, with Quant branding lining the floor and signage, it’s unobtrusively immersive. Mix in some brilliant archive footage and of course, more stunning clothes than you can shake a stick at and your onto a winner.

Via Victoria and Albert Museum

Exit through the gift shop, the best buys post exhibition:
Alongside all the usual exhibition items (postcards, coffee table books) the true crowning glory here is that you can buy Mary Quant goods. It is a little bit pricey (£25 for a lipstick and £10 for socks) but it’s still worth a look.

Mary Quant is open at V&A London until Feb 2020 and tickets are £12 (concessions are available) click here to find out more

Side note- I did have a free ticket for this review, but my opinions are entirely non bias.

Review: The Five, by Hallie Rubenhold – Jack The Rippers victims are finally given a voice

Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five is easily one of the most important history books of the last decade.

For the first time a book that contains the words ‘Jack the Ripper’ isn’t about the over mythicised serial killer. It’s about the women whose lives were not only brutally ended, but their memory twisted. Over a century they’ve become a carnival sideshow, pantomine prostitutes at tourist attractions like The London Dungeons, pictures of their brutalised bodies on display in a mocked up ‘morgue’ at The Jack The Ripper Museum, they’re the butt of a pop culture joke.

Which is why this book is so important. Restoring the dignity of Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary Jane.

Hallie Rubenhold places the women into history, revealing that each women was indelibly linked to a key moment in Victorian history, be that the Trafalger Sqaure encampment or The Princess Alice disaster. Turning the book not only into a story of individuals but one of those forgotten by history, Englands underclass.

Each women’s story is told over the course of multiple chapters and in such a way that even though as a reader you ultimatley know each womens fate, you’re still attached to them. Rubenhold examines their lives with an understanding that for the first time makes these women real people; flawed, good, bad and utterly relatable.

Annie Chapman, leaves behind a traumatic childhood to start climbing the ladder to becoming middle class, only to fall into alcholisim. Losing her husband, children and spiralling further down until she hit the streets of Whitechapel.

Elizabeth Stride, a Swedish farmers daughter whose encounters with sexual abuse led her to London, where she managed to snatch a chance to become an entrepreneur. But in era where one finicial blow could end it all, her buisness failure leads to her downfall. By the end Elizabeth is supporting herself by posing as a disaster victim.

Annie Chapman with her husband

One of my favourite things about the book is that it doesn’t feature any images of the womens bodies. That might sound ridiculous, but when the first google result for these women is their bloodied faces, thats a huge achievement.

Rubenhold also challenges usual perceptions of the women, mainly that each victim was a sexworker (showing evidence that most weren’t) but also calmly tearing down the moral demonisation over the women who were.

In addition Rubenhold argues that it is incredibly likely that the Rippers victims were asleep. The killer targeting down and out women as they bundled up asleep in darkened allies or door ways.

Its a theory that makes a great deal of sense and also one that highlights how history has wanted so badly for the victims to be sexworkers ‘who got what they derseved’, that its been willing to overlook the truth. 130 years on, it’s time we fixed that.

The Five, The Untold Lives of Jack The Ripper’s Victims, by Hallie Rubenhold, is out now.

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