The 1960s were a groundbreaking era for British fashion, thanks largely to innovative designers like Mary Quant and Barbara Hulanicki. By creating fun, edgy and affordable looks, Quant and Hulanicki made London the style capital of the world and evolved fashion into an expressive art form.

Mary Quant Mini Skirts Shock and Delight

The miniskirt, considered one of the most iconic fashions of the 1960s, sprang from the imagination of London designer Mary Quant. After growing bored of the restrictive, formulaic styles of the 1950s, Quant sought to inject more energy and sex appeal into women’s fashion. She began creating radically shorter skirts that went several inches above the knee.

Inspired by the unnamed thigh-skimming designs she saw on street trendsetters and fashion students, Quant officially dubbed her creation the “mini skirt” in 1964. That same year, she debuted the shocking new look in her signature youthful styles at her Bazaar boutique on King’s Road.

The mini skirt caused an uproar, with many in the old guard believing it was indecent and overtly sexual. But young British women flocked to the design as it embodied the newfound sense of freedom and rebellious spirit of the times. Quant minis in vibrant colors and prints, often worn with tights, tall boots and floppy hats, became the uniform for hip, modern girls in London and beyond.

Part of the mini’s appeal was how accessible and democratic it was. Quant aimed to make fashion affordable and fun for the average young woman, moving away from haute couture exclusivity. She opened her first Bazaar boutique in 1955 at the age of 21, with clothes priced under £5 so her peers could dress in the latest trends.

The mini skirt came to symbolise the style and energy of the Swinging Sixties. And Quant herself embodied the rise of the youthquake and modern British woman unhindered by past constraints. Oozing confidence and originality, she created clothes that helped women shape their own identity.

Biba Brings Bohemia to the High Street

Like Quant, Barbara Hulanicki sought to shake up fashion by making it affordable and on-trend when she launched the Biba label in 1964. After studying fashion illustration, Hulanicki began selling inexpensive, flowing dresses via mail order. When the mail-order service took off, Hulanicki opened her first boutique on Abingdon Road in Kensington.

With its art nouveau interior, Biba attracted hordes of young British women drawn to its unique, glamorous yet laidback designs. Hulanicki created easy, elegant looks featuring romantic fabrics, fluttery sleeves and muted earth tones. Her clothes possessed a bohemian vibe that matched the free-spirited mindset blossoming among youth in the 60s.

In contrast to boring, box-y postwar styles, Biba designs let women experiment with sensual silhouettes, quirky prints and rich colors. In 1966, the label moved to a seven-story emporium in Kensington High Street. This new “Big Biba” became a hip hangout spot and mecca for the London fashion world.

Like Quant, Hulanicki made fashion affordable and accessible. Biba brought elegance and sophistication to the average woman by offering high-style garments at reasonable prices. Its signature Global Village restaurant, beauty bar and accessories brought boutique sophistication to the high street.

Biba ultimately closed in 1976 after disputes with administration and failed attempts to expand. But its legacy lived on through Hulanicki’s inspired use of romantic, earthy and glam elements that gave women freedom of expression through style.

Lasting Influence on British Style

The innovative aesthetics of Quant and Hulanicki permeate British fashion even today. They brought sophistication and youthful spirit to the masses by designing for active, modern women. Their boutiques attracted models like Twiggy and celebrity fans from Brigitte Bardot to The Rolling Stones, confirming London as the style capital of the world.

Quant was revolutionary in how she merged Mod stylings with schoolgirl charm. She took inspiration from street culture to create fresh, fun clothes like trapeze dresses, colored tights and PVC raincoats. Her geometric prints, short hemlines and bold accessories defined the “London Look” of the 60s.

Hulanicki also embraced new fabrics like PVC and synthetics to make fashion forward but affordable designs. Her elegant dresses, slinky trousers, draped tops and cosmetics counter offered high Bohemian style at accessible prices.

Both designers helped shift fashion from an exclusive elite affair to an expressive art form anyone could enjoy. Their boutiques became hangouts where young shoppers could experiment with clothes to shape their identity and mood. Quant and Hulanicki made fashion more than just clothing – it became about freedom, individuality and cultural change.

Quant and Hulanicki took inspiration from the energy on London’s streets. By synthesizing Mod flair and Bohemian earthiness with cosmopolitan sophistication, they blended old and new in revolutionary ways. Their pioneering of fun, liberating fashion echoes through British designers today like Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen.

More than any other designers, Quant and Hulanicki created the “look” of the Swinging Sixties. Their bold new styles reflected the carefree spirit and shifting social mores of the era. In doing so, they redefined British taste and created iconic looks that still permeate modern fashion.

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