Director: Sadie Frost
Mary Quant wanted women to be individual and to feel sexy. Her designs which dominated fashion for decades is the subject of Sadie Frost’s new documentary that celebrates the influence of Quant from the opening of Bazaar on the King’s Road to the sale of the brand in the early twenty-first century. Peopled by those who knew her well including her Personal Assistant, family friends and her son, Quant has much to say about franchising fashion but little insight into the woman behind the brand.
A conventional story of rags to riches, director Sadie Frost hits all of the expected plot points in the invention of the mini skirt which Quant certainly made into a global phenomenon even if she wasn’t the first to shorten hems, as well as the cultural and societal context in which it emerged. You tick off each reference on your mental checklist as you go along – the Pill, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the King’s Road, so far so 60s.
It is one of the most disappointing aspects of this documentary that it cannot see beyond those generic markers of era and as the 70s and 80s also unfold there is flower power, boho fashion, The Who, punk and Spandau Ballet adding very little either to our knowledge of these years or the story of Mary Quant and the changing shape of her brand.
Most interesting is the growing scale of the business as Quant diversifies by licensing as much as she can, demonstrating a level of over-reach that the Netflix series Halston charted so well as Quant slapped her name on anything from wine to blankets. But Frost never delves beneath the descriptive surface of this expansion to understand why a woman, we are told was, if not shy than at least reserved, wanted her name to become a commodity on a scale that could intrude on her precious privacy – was it greed or something more nuanced?
Similarly, Frost gives us the particulars of her marriage and lifelong relationship she shared with her husband Alexander Plunket Greene – yet for a woman who stridently designed for young, ordinary women and determined to close the door on the class-governed past, how did she reconcile being married to someone with wealth and contacts that essentially got her business off the ground and who Frost repeatedly states Quant “stood behind.”
Quant is not uninteresting; it is filled with useful reflections from those who worked most closely with the designer and argues for her influence far beyond the length of a skirt and as a founder of modern fashion. But a few less dramatic enactments and a greater analysis that attempts to get between the seams of the woman who made it all possible, could have told us much that we didn’t already know.
Quant is screening at the London Film Festival.