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IN THE NEWS
TOUR OF THE MONTH
ON THIS DAY IN LONDON
Mary Quant's Bazaar
Mary Quant, designer of the mini skirt, opened her boutique here
Location: Markham House, 138a King's Road, Chelsea, sw3 4uu
Description: In October 1955, she teamed up with her husband, Alexander Plunkett-Greene, and an accountant, Archie McNair, to open a clothes shop on the Kings Road in London called Bazaar.
Greene had inherited 5,000 pounds on his 21st birthday, and the three decided to go into business together. They rented Markham House, a three-story building here in London's artist district of Chelsea.
They opened a boutique on the first floor and a restaurant in the basement. They called the boutique Bazaar. Its owners knew little about the business beyond Quant's fashion philosophy: I can't bear over-accessorization... a white hat worn with white gloves, white shoes and a white umbrella, she declared in Quant by Quant. Rules are invented for lazy people who don't want to think for themselves.
True to her philosophy, Quant searched for the clothes she herself wanted to wear, selling miniskirts, funky dresses, bright tights and bras called Booby Traps to young people.
The shop capitalized on the buying power of baby boomers, those born during the sharp increase in birthrate following the end of World War II, who were beginning to grow into teenagers.
Naive about the mechanics of running a retail business, Quant and her partners sold their wares with a markup much smaller than any nearby store, without realizing they were actually taking a loss on many items. It was no wonder we did such a roaring trade the moment we opened, she later wrote. The shop was constantly stripped bare--sometimes we hardly had enough to dress the window--because we never bought enough of anything.
Quant quickly discovered that manufacturers weren't making the kinds of clothes she wanted to sell, so she set up her own manufacturing outfit in her apartment, hiring a dressmaker to come during the day and help. Quant herself sewed dresses at night to sell the next day in the shop. I had to sell one day's output before I had the money to go out and buy more material, she recalled, noting that at first, I didn't think of myself as a designer. I just knew that I wanted to concentrate on finding the right clothes for the young to wear and the right accessories to go with them.
Struggling to make ends meet and suffering ridicule from the press and some passers-by, Quant persevered. In less than ten years, her clothing designs was world famous, selling in 150 shops in Britain, 320 stores in the United States, and throughout the world: France, Italy, Switzerland, Kenya, South Africa, Australia, Canada, and more.
The miniskirt, for which she is arguably most famous, became one of the defining fashions of the 1960s. The miniskirt was developed separately by Andre Courrges, and there is disagreement as to who came up with the idea first. Mary Quant named the miniskirt after her favourite make of car, the Mini.
In the basement here was (until 2008), a club called the Bosun's Locker, which became a haven for the nu-folk scene and where Laura Marling and Noah and the Whale, Mumford and Sons, etc. got kick started on the way to stardom.