The V&A’s Mary Quant exhibition is a trip down memory lane for women of a certain age. As a pre-teen in the early 70s, the cachet of Mary Quant’s clothes said everything about modern style: they were youthful, irreverent and fun. By the late 60s, Quant had started to think about a make-up range because, as she said: “now that the clothes were different, the face was wrong.”
The launch, in 1966, was a seismic shift in the finished look of make-up which morphed from thick, pancake foundation, red lips, minimally detailed eyes and drawn on brows, to 60s minimal foundation, pale lips, heavily lined, shaded and lashed eyes, with thinly plucked brows.
But the packaging changed too, from what Quant called ‘all pale pink quilting and bogus gold’ to something modern, functional and eye-grabbing, all stamped with that clever daisy logo, one of the original brand marks, that was registered for the launch of the cosmetics brand, and which became globally recognised.
Quant could also be credited with inventing the modern make-up tutorial due to a cartoon-strip leaflet to show how the products could be used.
During the economic turmoil of the 70s, the cosmetics brand was sold by original manufacturers Gala to Max Factor, and then Revlon acquired it. In 1970, a Japanese franchise launched and although the British arm was still trading in the 80s (a friend worked on the counter in Selfridges in 1985) business was almost exclusively in Japan and this division took over control of the entire company in 2000.
I have fond memories of so much of Mary Quant’s make-up from Starkers foundation (was it the first ever tinted moisturiser?) to Crayons – Caran d’Ache-style pencils in a canary yellow tin. There was Blush Baby blusher, Peep Eyes eyeshadow and Posh Prune nail polish, a deep plum colour that just screams 70s.
Special Recipe skincare, foundation and fragrance was one of the first ranges to highlight ‘natural’ ingredients – I can still remember the scent – in apothecary style black glass jars with yellow lids.
You can still buy Mary Quant cosmetics in Japan and every now and then, some vintage finds come up on Ebay. I have a collection of Mary Quant eyeshadows from the early 80s. The packaging is showing its age, and I’m not sure they’re fit to be used, but as a not-to-be-missed chance to grab a small piece of beauty history, they’re perfect. I might even think about selling them one of these days.