There were two fashion exhibitions on at the V&A.
My wife wanted to see one but I only wanted to see the other one.
So we compromised, we’ve all been to art school including our son and daughter.
So I said you go with Jade to one, and I’ll go with her to the other one.
The exhibition they went to was: CHRISTIAN DIOR, DESIGNER OF DREAMS.
The Dior exhibition ran for 6 months and was seen by 600,000 people, a record at the V&A, but I wasn’t interested in that.
Dior’s clothes were old-fashioned and formal, for rich people: Hollywood stars like Marlene Dietrich and Ava Gardner, and royalty like Princess Margaret.
Dior is the most expensive clothing brand in the world, a typical dress is $2,500 and a silk scarf $1,150, the brand is worth $11.9 billion and generates $34 billion revenue per year.
The clothes were corseted, restrictive, and regressive.
Even Coco Chanel said: “Only a man who has never been intimate with a woman could design something so rigid and uncomfortable.”
So I didn’t want to see the Dior exhibition, it had no relevance to the world of real people.
But also in the V&A was the exhibition I did want to see, so Jade and I went to that.
An exhibition by a designer who changed the world of real people: Mary Quant.
Before Mary Quant, all dresses were below the knee, they had to be because all women wore stockings and suspenders, shorter dresses would have shown it all off.
But Mary Quant took a new idea, panty hose, and began making them look like anything but conventional nylons.
They were black and white, or orange, or red, or green, and they were crocheted.
Because they were one piece there were no suspenders to hide, so skirts could be as short as you liked.
And because of this she popularised the mini-skirt, the shortest anyone had ever seen.
When she began, she said: “I liked my skirts short because I wanted to run and catch the bus to get to work.”
She understood the place fashion had in real people’s lives: “Fashion is a tool, to compete in life outside the home. People like you better without knowing why, because people always react well to a person they like the looks of.”
So her clothes were fun, they were easier to move around in, they were younger, they were cheaper, they were more daring.
She popularised what we now call the sports bra, no wire frame, no fastenings, just smooth and body fitting: she called it the ‘Booby Trap’.
She sold false eyelashes by the yard, girls just cut off as much as they needed.
She said “Rules are invented for lazy people who don’t want to think for themselves.”
She wasn’t bound by convention, echoing Picasso and Warhol, she said “Good taste is death. Vulgarity is life.”
She didn’t get her ideas from other designers, she got her ideas from the girls in the street, the Mods.
She thought like they thought, which is why she said: “As a designer, all I can do is anticipate a mood before they realise that they are bored. It is simply a matter of getting bored first.”
Which may be why, unlike Dior, 7 million women (in the real world) had at least one piece of Mary Quant in their wardrobe.
She also said one of the most valuable pieces of advice for any creative person in any business.
Advice about energy and hanging onto ideas.
“One of the things I’ve learned is never to hoard ideas, because either they are not so relevant or they’ve gone stale. Whatever it is, pour it out.”