New documentary explores a 1960s icon, and a tiny garment, that shaped a new era in fashion

Written by Marianna Cerini, CNN

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There’s a swap in Sadie Frost’s debut documentary “Quant,” which succinctly captures the essence of the film’s theme, one of the most famous fashion icons of the 1960s, and the garment she’s been for. best known.

“Isn’t the miniskirt obvious enough?” a TV host asks British designer Mary Quant. “At the end of the day, it seems that few girls have legs, hips and, above all, the panache to wear it majestically.”

Horrified, Quant responds, “But who wants to be majestic?”

The line is delivered with the perfect dose of mocking contempt for the man in front of it (and, quite possibly, the masculine establishment of the time). It’s a state of mind, and one of the many moments in “Quant,” that makes it easy to see how the designer, who is credited with turning the miniskirt into a global phenomenon and launching one of the first super brands worldwide, it did not. It only shaped a new era in fashion, but it also served as a voice for the women of her generation.

Mary Quant poses with her models at London Heathrow Airport in March 1968 before leaving for a continental fashion tour. Credit: George Stroud / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Quant’s clothing, as he makes clear throughout the film, was not intended for an elite of “stately ladies” (“We don’t want to look like a duchess,” he says in another clip). Quite the opposite: encompassing short dresses and sparkly leggings, PVC pieces and original fabrics, they offered a colorful break from the rigid dress codes of the previous decade, including the refined style of Christian Dior’s first collection, the “New Look.” .

For women who came of age wearing them, Quant’s designs represented freedom, empowerment and the rejection of their parents’ aesthetic standards. (In another eminently quotable snippet, he is heard saying, “The point of women’s clothing should be one, to be noticed, two, that you look sexy, and three, that you feel good. I can’t see that we use them to keep the heat. “)

“Mary Quant helped change the role of women in society and encouraged them to express themselves,” Frost said in a telephone interview. “There were so many interesting parts of his personality and his life, and I really wanted to bring them out throughout the movie.”

Beyond the short skirt

Frost tells the story of Quant through stock footage, animation, and hilarious re-enactments of actress Camilla Rutherford, who replicates the designer’s playful style in a handful of vignettes. The fashion icon itself (now in its 90s, according to the film) is missing, though Frost said he saw the documentary and liked it.

“As we filmed during the pandemic, the restrictions made it really difficult to sit with Mary,” explained Frost. “But it was still very important to me to bring her to life on screen, so I decided to have Camilla play her younger self. It worked really well: I think it adds a new dimension to the film.”

There are also interviews with industry experts such as British Vogue editor Edward Enninful, model Kate Moss, and fashion author Terry Newman, as well as some of Quant’s closest relatives, including his son Orlando Plunkett-Greene, who does not appear on the screen. – and friends.

Frost hired Camilla Rutherford to play a younger Mary Quant in a handful of scenes.

Frost hired Camilla Rutherford to play a younger Mary Quant in a handful of scenes. Credit: Chris Lopez / Courtesy of MQD Film Limited

But the director has also framed Quant’s enduring legacy in a larger context: that of the “youth earthquake” that shook the 1960s with music, second-wave feminism, and sex (“Quant” explores how the advent of the the contraceptive pill gave women greater agency over their lives).

Tracing Quant’s meteoric career through such lenses, from the opening of his first boutique in London’s Chelsea neighborhood to the rise of his retail empire, which, at its peak, included not only clothing but also cosmetics, hosiery, shoes and household items. the documentary places the designer at the forefront of the cultural changes of the time, identifying her as a key face of the radical sixties.

It also highlights Quant’s lesser-known qualities: despite her daring collections, the designer was a shy and reserved figure, getting her way through her soft-spoken manner and her calm but decisive approach.

“She was an incredibly dynamic character who hasn’t been recognized enough for the role she played,” said Frost. “I wanted to pay him the tribute he deserves.”

A legacy of innovative looks

Whether Quant actually invented the miniskirt is a hotly debated topic: the documentary mentions French designer André Courrèges as the possible creator of the garment, while noting that the introduction of the “above the knee” skirts was a gradual process.

Regardless, Quant was undoubtedly responsible for making the ever-shorter skirt the defining garment of the 1960s era (and coined its name after the Mini Cooper), breaking social codes in the process.

But she’s also emblematic of other innovative looks: her own Vidal Sassoon bob; the flirty aesthetic of the “Chelsea girl”; the Peter Pan collars and flats she popularized, inspired by her own wardrobe as a child; the colorful tights, created to complement her bold and bright collections; its use of PVC for warm clothing (something previously only used by fishermen); reused male fabrics as women’s jersey dresses; and dress pockets.

British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, a contemporary of Quant, was interviewed for the documentary.

British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, a contemporary of Quant, was interviewed for the documentary. Credit: Chris Lopez / Courtesy of MQD Film Limited

It was one of the first retailers to diversify into licensing (the practice whereby a trademark owner, the “licensor”, allows another party, the “licensee,” to use its trademarks in connection with products or specific services), expanding their business around the world to include cosmetics (waterproof masks were unheard of until Quant came along), household items, dolls, and even wine.

Ultimately, however, the soaring growth proved too difficult to sustain. When the sexiness of the sixties was replaced by the hippie and punk vibes of the seventies, and the eighties saw a resurgence of more formal and understated clothing, Quant lost its global appeal. By the late 1980s, his business partner, Archie McNair, had retired from the company. Quant’s husband, Alexander Plunket Greene, one of his staunch supporters, according to the documentary, died in 1990.

In 2000, the designer resigned as director of her company, Mary Quant Ltd, and handed over the reins to the Japanese company that still maintains the licensing agreements for the Quant name. Today, the brand still exists only in Japan, where there are still more than 100 stores under its name.

“Regardless, his legacy continues,” Frost said. “Younger people may not even know who she is and how deeply she influenced fashion. But for me, it was important to tell her full story.”

“Quant” is currently available in the UK.

Add to the tail: behind the seams

The fashion documentary that made fashion documentaries a thing, “The September Issue” offers a rare look inside American Vogue as the fashion magazine’s influential editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, and now former creative director, Grace. Coddington, are working to produce their (once) September mammoth. From fashion weeks to endless photo shoots and staff meetings, it’s a reminder of a time when print media was still king.

Directed by one of her granddaughters, Lisa Immordino, and with contributions from more than 60 interviewees, including fashion designers Oscar de la Renta, Diane von Furstenberg and Calvin Klein, “Diana Vreeland” is a fascinating look at the life of the late editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, long recognized as one of the least conventional women in fashion of the 20th century.

Self-proclaimed “geriatric star” Iris Apfel (who turned 100 this year) is the subject of this fun and cuddly documentary from the iconic Albert Maysles. Filmed over four years, it is a window into the flamboyant life of the style connoisseur, but also a story about creativity, inspiration and the true essence of fashion.

Like Mary Quant, Vivienne Westwood was a catalyst for a new era in British fashion. This documentary offers a comprehensive retrospective of his career, while also looking to the future, as Westwood remains one of the most influential and unconventional forces in fashion today.

Combining cheaply filmed home videos with footage and interviews, this is another great documentary highlighting one of the biggest names in British fashion. “McQueen” explores the late designer’s career, legacy and border-breaking fashion shows, while paying homage to his eclecticism and emotional depth.

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