When Centre Point was completed in 1966, it looked out over a London radically different from the city where plans had been drawn up seven years earlier. Back in 1959, London had yet to throw off the staid conventions of the 1950s. By 1966, it was the centre of world fashion and the ‘London Look’ was the big new thing. One woman, born in Blackheath, was largely responsible.
What Chanel and Dior were to Paris, Mary Quant was to London. As the creator of the mini skirt and hotpants, she tapped into a generation’s desire to dress in a way that pleased themselves and not their parents. Young people had unprecedented freedom and disposable income, and London was the place to dispose of it. Mary Quant was fortunate in being in the right place at the right time – but then so were many other designers. Quant’s unique talent was to anticipate trends and push them further, while others were still trying to shake off the more conservative mindset of previous decades.
Nothing typified this more than the mini skirt. Mary Quant didn’t conjure it up out of the blue – she noticed skirts had been getting shorter since the late fifties. She saw this as a practical and liberating step, and her natural inclination was to take it as far as it would go.
Some newspapers dubbed 1966 the ‘Year of the Leg’ – and you can’t help wondering if that spirit seeped its way subconsciously into other areas of design. Maybe it’s fanciful to think Centre Point’s criss-crossed façade has something of the fishnet stocking about it. But this was certainly the decade when London’s architects and fashion designers were both heading in only one direction – and that was up.