Registered charity 276264

Mary Quant

Dame Mary Quant died on 13th April 2023.

In October 1955, Mary Quant, her boyfriend, later husband, Alexander Plunket Greene, and Archie McNair, a former solicitor turned photographer, opened a dress shop called Bazaar on the King’s Road, Chelsea.  This was just ten years after the end of World War II, when a blitzed and broken London had hardly started rock ‘n’ rolling, let alone swinging.

On his 21st birthday, Plunket Greene, who died in 1990, had inherited £5,000. He joined financial forces with McNair to buy a lease on Markham House, 138 King’s Road, at its junction with Markham Square and almost next door to the Markham Arms pub.

McNair had already opened London’s second ever new-style coffee bar, called Fantasie, at Number 128. He also lived and worked at that address, where he ran a photographic studio and a team of photographers which included Anthony Armstrong-Jones.

The plan was that Number 138 would also have multiple uses: a jazz club in the basement, workshops on the upper floors and, at ground level, a shop. The shop, called Bazaar, was where Quant found fame. Born in Woolwich to Welsh parents who had moved to the capital from coal mining communities to become school teachers, she had met Plunket Greene at Goldsmiths College. She studied illustration and art, but fashion was her first love.

Mary Quant moved from a bedsit in Oakley Street to rooms above Fantasie, where she lived and worked on her own clothing designs. Both they and the shop were instant successes. Not everyone considers her to have invented the miniskirt, but no one doubts she was central to establishing its popularity. She would later attribute its creation to “the girls on the King’s Road” who demanded shorter and shorter hemlines. 

Quant arrived at a time when English girls left school and dressed like their mother. As George Melly put it: ‘Only tarts and homosexuals wore clothes which reflected what they were.’ Quant threw all the accessories into the dustbin and enabled young women to look young. Away went the white gloves and the hat and the matching bag and shoes. She was a precursor of sixties ideas and attitudes (for better or worse). 

King’s Road would become synonymous with Swinging London and the Markham Arms was a watering hole of the Chelsea Set of that period.

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Registered Charity 276264. © 2024 The Chelsea Society. All rights reserved.
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