Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Mary Quant Asked 22 Top Models: What's Wrong With Make-Up?

From The Sixties in Queen (1987)

In the early 1960s, Mary Quant was convinced there was a lot wrong with make-up. In Quant by Quant (1966), she declares "Make-up - old style - is out." In her 2012 autobiography she goes even further, stating "I wanted to design a complete look from head to toe ... Everything looked right except the make-up." At the time, wearing make-up was, in Quant's words, "about as fashionable and chic as false teeth".

So what did Mary Quant do? According to this advert, reproduced in the book The Sixties in Queen (and dated to 1964, though I think it must also be 1966 when Mary Quant Make-Up launched), she asked 22 top models.

The advert doesn't seem too far from the truth. In a period where putting make-up on in public was still deemed as slightly improper, who else would know how to apply it properly, other than the people who rely on it to make their living, the models? Quant writes: "I was acutely conscious that I had to deliberately break the rules ... Then I saw Jean Shrimpton and Grace Coddington using foot-long brushes from stage make-up suppliers. This moved my thinking further. I could see that these could be developed into a pencil-case size and made very chic and charming. A wider palette of subtle foundation and blusher colours would also give us the shading, shaping and shadowing effects need to flatter the face."

In Grace, Grace Coddington also describes a model's make-up in this period: "An intense focus on the eyes was now the absolute thing: they had to be more expressive and dramatic and were known as 'panda' eyes... Each girl had their own individual style when it came to piling on the eye make-up." In her 18 months of development before launching the range, Quant must have asked a few models about that too. She wanted the look of the range to be "flattering, exaggerating the eyes, the cheekbones and mouth, subtly shaping the face, very pale in winter or playing up freckles in summer."

Both the Shrimp and the Cod appear in this advert for Mary Quant Make-Up (fun "Make-Up", rather than grown-up "Cosmetics" was a key distinction for Quant), alongside Peggy Moffitt and Celia Hammond and many other familiar faces. I can't find out much more about this particular advert, other than that is was probably the work of Tom Wolsey, the art director on fashionable Town magazine, and the man behind the other distinctive Quant Make-Up advertising of the period. And it can't have been cheap to put together: Jean Shrimpton and the like were actually earning decent money by this time. Perhaps the expense seemed justified because Quant had complete trust in the possible success of her new products, describing it as "the one time in my life I had total, total confidence in a venture's success."

Here is the "first great post-atomic breakthrough in make-up", according to the advert. Geared towards "look of the moment", the range includes fun sounding products like "starkers nude foundation", face shapers, eye shapers, and nail varnish shades named things such as Chrome and PVC White "geared to current clothes". The packaging looks every bit as distinctive today, designed to be played with and, more importantly, to be shown off, a symbol for the "new, young career woman" as Quant describes it.

When Quant asked "What's Wrong With Make-Up?", it's basically the same question she asked, and answered with her equally game-changing clothing designs. "I want model girls who look like real people to wear my clothes which are for real people", she said, when talking about her fashion designs in 1967 and she might as well have been describing her make-up philosophy. "I want model girls who look like real people to wear my clothes which are for real people."


  1. So interesting! We don't always associate fashion with make-up, but where would 60s style be without those panda eyes?

    1. Absolutely, and also that those panda eyes were associated with youth and naturalness - for me they look so artificial and "made-up".


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