Two of the UK’s most iconic designers, Sir Terence Conran and Dame Mary Quant, are being celebrated this spring with a pair of exhibitions highlighting their transformative impact on interiors and fashion during the Pop era. Swinging London: A Lifestyle Revolution / Terence Conran – Mary Quant is currently on view at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum through 2 June, while a solo Mary Quant exhibit opens at the Victoria & Albert Museum on 6 April and will run throughout the year.
Like the Bloomsbury Group before them, these two visionaries were at the forefront of a progressive group of young artists and designers dubbed the Chelsea Set, which included artist Eduardo Paolozzi and photographer Nigel Henderson among them. Passionate that style should be accessible to everyone, Conran and Quant championed what became the democratisation of design. They both opened boundary-breaking retail outlets, he with Habitat and she with Bazaar, where they offered customers exciting new designs that were just as affordable as the standard High Street wares. In doing so, they reshaped the way design was both perceived and received by the public.
It’s a testament to their talent that their work still resonates decades on. We could easily see Conran’s 1953 Cone chair (pictured) as part of Atelier Vime’s curation of vintage wicker seating, for example, and both Habitat and The Conran Shop continue to be go-to sources for today’s top designers. Quant’s bold patterns, daring use of colour and innovative materials remain synonymous with the Swinging Sixties and her influence crossed over into interior design even then. Marion Hall Best’s tribute to her - A Room for Mary Quant - shown during the 1967 Australia design exhibition, Rooms on View, is a classic example. In a contemporary context, look no further than Karim Rashid.
For more on the work of these pioneering creatives, pick up a copy of Geoffrey Rayner and Richard Chamberlain’s new book, Conran/Quant: Swinging London - A Lifestyle Revolution, which was released in coordination with the Fashion & Textile Museum’s exhibition.
Photographs © ACC Art Books, Ray Williams, Duffy Archive