Autobiography, By Mary Quant

Nice clothes, but what's underneath?
  • @FionaSturges

Don't believe the old saw "If you can remember the Sixties, you weren't there".

Mary Quant remembers everything and she was the Sixties, having single-handedly created the look – the miniskirts, the hotpants, the PVC macs, the skinny-ribbed sweaters – that defined Swinging London. If the fashion designer has grown tired of raking over 50-year-old glories, she shows no sign of it in her memoir, which breathlessly reinforces her own legend and plants her at the epicentre of all that was stylish and cool.

From the moment she and her husband Alexander Plunket Greene (known as APG) open the doors of their King's Road boutique in 1955, their lives are a giddy merry-go-round of parties, press launches, photo shoots and dinners. As the Quant empire grows there are business meetings in New York and Tokyo, weekends in St Tropez, and ludicrous publicity stunts including one at an awards ceremony in Rome that involves Quant in a helicopter drop at the Spanish Steps.

She is an incorrigible name-dropper. Elizabeth David comes to dinner (they make her sausage and mash), Brigitte Bardot drops by APG's restaurant, and, oh look, there's Rudolph Nureyev, copping a strop because one of Quant's business associates doesn't recognise him.

You sense that Quant could fill several more volumes with stories like these. But amusing as they are, they don't reveal much about her interior life. She offers only the barest glimpse into her early existence, sprinting through her childhood in six pages and plotting her passage from penniless art student to the toast of the town in just a couple of chapters. There's a moment of candour when she reveals how APG was repeatedly unfaithful – "Women would telephone me and say, 'Can Alexander come out to play?'" – and another when she fleetingly discusses the illness that led to his death. And that's pretty much that.

She is more fluent when it comes to business, making sharp observations about the factors that contributed to her success, from the catchiness of her name to the canniness of also making the tights to be worn under her miniskirts. Nevertheless, you get little sense of what drives her.

Perhaps it's to be expected that a designer so absorbed in image is unaccustomed to scratching beneath the surface. Quant's autobiography is never dull, but if you want a comprehensive picture of its author, you won't find it here.