The ‘Swinging Sixties’ were a time of intense creativity and a new freedom and encouragement to see and experience the world in different ways. Art school was seen as the place to be, and Kingston – with the swathes of musicians and bands drifting in to play gigs and casually mixing with the students in the Union bars – offered a uniquely special, creative environment. Local luminary, Eric Clapton said of his time at Kingston: “it was a remarkable school, I loved it. It moved me onto another level of appreciation in terms of art, music, art and literature. I met a bunch of people who were much more avant-garde”.
Daphne Booker, who had studied at the School as a teenager, went on to take over the Fashion Department in 1963, expanding it into one of the best courses in the country, if not the world. In 1965, 1966 and 1970, under her leadership, Kingston School of Art Fashion students won first-prize at the International Youth Fashion Design contest held in St. Gall, Switzerland, in 1966 being awarded the highest points available for 6 out of 10 garments. This victory was a first for Britain against the established European winners since the competition had begun six years earlier, signalling the emergence of the ‘London Look’ as the signature style of the decade.
Publication, Drapers and Fashion Weekly stated: “it is no idle boast that young British designers are leading the fashion world, whilst The Surrey Comet wrote, “The girls and boys of Kingston have done it again! They have established themselves beyond any doubt that they are among the world’s leading up-and -coming designers”. When Kingston won first prize again in 1970, the world-leading reputation of the fashion design was sealed. Further success was enjoyed in 1983, when they won the Munich-based International Sportswear competition for a third year in a row. The Guardian has since commented on the success of Kingston alumni in securing jobs at the best design houses and boutiques, including Issye Miyake and Paul Smith, as well as high street stores including M&S, Hobbs and Wallis.
Check out our Kingston School of Art Hall of Fame for a selection of its famous and esteemed alumni.
In the same year students were celebrating their St. Gall victory, businessman Stanley Picker struck a lucrative deal with trailblazing 1960’s fashion designer Mary Quant, to manufacture, licence and sell her thriving makeup line from his Gala Cosmetics Factory in Chessington. Once again, this humble locale on the Thames was the seat of locally-grown innovations that would have a global impact.
Local not-for-profit The Community Brain (no italics) explored this story as part of a wider heritage project that looked at the Cox Lane industrial estate where the factory was based; content from which you can explore below.
If you are interested in learning more about the fashion of the period, visit FUSEBOX to see our display of evolving streetstyles from the 1960s – 1990s, curated by Jessica Hazel of Smoking Gun Vintage.
“The most exciting day of my life” – that was how Mary Quant described the time in 1966 she met Stanley Picker, an American cosmetics manufacturer with a factory on Hook Rise, part of the Chessington Cox Lane industrial estate.
Quant was looking for somebody to help develop her line of cosmetics, which she was determined would be known for its beautiful and chic packaging. When Picker came into her garage studio, it sparked a wildly successful partnership that saw the Mary Quant brand become one of the most iconic symbols of the Swinging Sixties. They set to work that afternoon, and spent the next 18 months on developing, testing and launching the products. And at the Hook Rise factory, an army of Gala Cosmetics workers was ready to deliver them.
“It was the one time in my life I had total, total confidence in a venture’s success. Stanley Picker simply let me rip from an ideas point of view, which I had never experienced before and, during the tests with his team and skills, everything came right.” – Mary Quant
Gala’s presence on the industrial estate can be traced back to the early 1940s, when Miners make-up company moved into a unit on Hook Rise. Miners was bought by Stanley Picker in 1960, who lived in Kingston Hill at the time and owned the US-based Gala Cosmetics, set up by his father shortly after the Great Depression. As part of the buy-out, Stanley took ownership of the Miners factory – itself a site with a history of design and innovation, having been home to the pioneering furniture maker Betty Joel in the 1920s.
Instead of renaming the products to Gala, he chose to keep the incredibly popular Miners brand, understanding the importance of brand loyalty. He is also often credited as being the pioneer of women matching their lipstick to their nail polish – a stroke of marketing genius which saw the company’s profits rocket!
In 1964, Gala successfully floated on the London Stock Exchange and secured a huge investment, which was used to scale up operations at Cox Lane by modernising the factory and setting up a global distribution hub at Chobham. The factory employed hundreds of women who staffed the production line, turning out lipsticks, powder compacts and other make-up under the Gala, Miners and Outdoor Girl brands. And then came the Mary Quant deal in 1966.
Under the contract, Gala would manufacture, distribute and market cosmetics branded with Quant’s iconic black daisy logo. Produced by shop floor workers at Cox Lane, Quant-branded products were shipped to and sold to countries around the world. Shortly after signing the deal with Gala, Mary Quant was awarded an OBE for her services to exports.
In 1970 Gala was taken over by major multinational Smith and Nephew, who already owned brands such as Nivea and Elastoplast. Miners, Mary Quant and Outdoor Girl branded products continued to be produced on Cox Lane until Smith and Nephew were forced to save costs and sell the brands, with Max Factor acquiring Gala’s product range. With manufacturing moved outside of the UK, the Cox Lane factory was closed down and eventually destroyed by 1981 – as well as jobs, one of the borough’s most recognisable buildings was lost.
Learn more about The Community Brain’s original research project into the Cox Lane industrial estate by visiting their website. As well as written history and images, you can listen to oral history testimonies, including those from a range of Gala workers, including those on the factory floor, in Research & Development, Personnel, and Stanley Picker’s office. Fran Lloyd, Professor of Art History at Kingston University, also reflects on the cultural significance of Mary Quant.