Opening in 1976, the Museum of London was created through the amalgamation of the London Museum and the Guildhall Museum. The transition took several years of preparation to complete and stimulated a total rethinking of what a museum for and about London could be – a process much like the one we are experiencing now. In the lead up to its move from Kensington Palace to the Barbican complex, curators at the London Museum experimented with new approaches to the city’s history through special exhibitions. The Museum’s ground-breaking final show Mary Quant’s London - staged at Kensington Palace between November 1973 and September 1974 - signalled a new direction in its approach to history and contemporary life ahead of relocation.
Fashioning the museum
As the first major museum exhibition to explore the work of a single, living fashion designer, Mary Quant’s London is an important ancestor of the blockbuster fashion shows that now attract record-breaking audiences. It was also only the second museum exhibition in London ever to be devoted to contemporary fashion, following quickly in the footsteps of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Fashion: An Anthology by Cecil Beaton in 1971.
Its focus, of course, was Mary Quant – the Blackheath-born icon of the Swinging Sixties. She is best known for popularising the mini-skirt, but Quant’s lasting impressions on the fashion industry are plenty. They extend from her transformation of boutique retailing and mass-production of ready-to-wear designs to building an international lifestyle empire which also produced makeup and home furnishings.
Mary Quant’s London charted her remarkable career through a display of over fifty Quant ‘looks’ (complete outfits styled on mannequins) alongside accessories, photographs, sketches, makeup and homeware. The exhibition’s purpose was to tell a story of social change and modernity in the capital in the aftermath of the Second World War. In particular, it sought to show how London had emerged as the epicentre of a ‘Youthquake’ that channelled its energy through new directions in art, music and fashion.