Quant, review: a sleek and stylish portrait of the woman who changed a generation

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12A, 87 min. Dir: Sadie Frost 

Quant, review: a sleek and stylish portrait of the woman who changed a generation
© Getty/Hulton Talking about a revolution: Mary Quant in November 1964 – Getty/Hulton

If you thought that a film about Mary Quant would be for fashion geeks only, then cast aside those preconceptions. For all the talk of mini skirts and Swinging Sixties glamour, this is the sparky tale of a woman who, from the mid 50s, led the charge of a youthquake which changed the way a whole generation behaved.  

While most were ‘dressing like a duchess’ in the prim style of Dior’s New Look in the early 1950s, Quant was already declaring that “the point of clothes for women should be one, that you’re noticed, two, that you look sexy and three, that you feel good. I can’t see that we wear them to keep warm”.   

Quant, review: a sleek and stylish portrait of the woman who changed a generation
© Provided by The Telegraph A vivid presence: Camilla Rutherford as Mary Quant in Sadie Frost’s documentary – Handout

Directed by Sadie Frost, the actor and producer best known as a leading player in the Primrose Hill set, this sleek and stylish portrait sets up a delicious contrast between liberated Quant, who, with her tribe of Chelsea girls, embraced all the fun of a post-Pill world (and was unashamed about becoming ‘an item’ with her eventual husband and business partner Alexander Plunkett-Greene), and the stuffy male establishment, encapsulated by the radio presenter blustering about how “few girls have the legs or hips” to carry off a mini.

Quant was leaning into a cultural shift long before the Beatles came along and immortalised it in music, and ahead of anyone thinking to do the same in apparently trend-setting cities like Paris and New York. In fact, on one trip to the US, Quant and her team were turned away from a restaurant because they were dressed in, shock horror, trouser suits.

Quant, now 91, hasn’t been interviewed for the film, yet her presence is vivid, thanks to brilliantly selected archive footage and actress Camilla Rutherford who takes on the role of the designer in scenes which recreate her poppy, playful aesthetic.   The story goes far beyond Quant’s role as a face of the radical 1960s to show her as someone who combined her career with the struggle to have a baby, who loved the country as much as the Kings Road and who astutely built a business empire which long outlasted the era in which she came to fame and still has 100 stores in Japan today.

In one scene, Quant wrangles with a male perfumer as she explains that she’d like to create a fragrance which epitomises the “perverse schizophrenia of being a woman”. The man says it’s simply not possible and that they’ll have to make more than one perfume. Of course she knew it was possible – she is the living proof. In cinemas from today.

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