Blog archive April 2019

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12.04.19 / 01 / Mary Quant exhibition

The vibrant Mary Quant exhibition at the V&A revealed a few things I hadn't appreciated. Quant is famous for marketing and naming the miniskirt, but her radicalism was deeper than that.

The clothes, whatever they looked like, were actually made from stretch jersey. The mid-60s minidresses were very similar to tracksuit tops or cycling jerseys, with pelmet-like skirts attached. Teamed with matching leggings and Kangol berets, they were in effect what we now call athleisure. For me this stuff is the highlight of the show - still striking and forward-looking 50 years later. Indeed it's only now that this approach has become a normal way of dressing, aided by advances in fabric technology.

These clothes challenged the conventional structured underwear of the time, so Quant had to produce minimal Lycra underwear and tights/leggings to suit. She overreached in 1966 with moulded PVC shoes - lined with fabric, but still sweaty. Not one of her best ideas, and probably all still out there in landfill.

The turn to 30s nostalgia from 1968 didn't suit her at all - she played along, but it was a step back from the edge of futurism she had reached. She said that she wanted women to be able to run for a bus in her clothes, but the active lifestyle implied by them, and the appropriate shoes, had not yet arrived. By the early 70s her focus had shifted to best-selling makeup ranges, including one for men in 1974 - I remember the shock it caused.

Many of the clothes in the show had been donated by members of the public after an appeal, accompanied by old photos of them actually wearing their donations. The comparison to the Dior exhibition running at the same time was instructive. If you have a couture Dior outfit, you preserve it carefully, and it is built to last. Quant's clothes were cheap and disposable, and few have survived. One dress was visibly moth-eaten, which would normally disqualify it from a major exhibition unless it was the only surviving example of a notable design.

09.04.19 / 02 / nothing changes

When Christ embarked in the boat of his church to cross the sea of the world

The waves of kings were foaming
The billows of the mighty seethed
The rage of subjects resounded
Nations swirled like whirlpools

Sharp rocks of infidelity came into view
Groans resounded from Christian shores
The shipwreck of the fallen-aways was drifting about

And there was one crisis
One shipwreck of all the world

At present Christ is asleep in us
Let us awaken him by a full groan from our hearts
By our voice of faith

Peter Chrysologus, Bishop of Ravenna in the 5th century

Strikingly contemporary words from a poster in the Corita Kent exhibition.

09.04.19 / 01 / hope

Doing and making are acts of hope, and as that hope grows, we stop feeling overwhelmed by the troubles of the world. We remember that we - as individuals and groups - can do something about these troubles.

Corita Kent

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