This web site, dedicated to Jean Muir, includes a collection of press cuttings and other information celebrating the life of one of Britain's greatest fashion designers.
Lots more information can be found in the Jean Muir Archive at: National Museums Scotland.
The Mail — 13/03/05 an Extract
Camilla Parker Bowles in Jean Muir
at the Windsor Castle dinner
that became an engagement celebration.
If Jean Muir, that inimitable maker of ineffably elegant clothing, were alive today I think she'd be pretty pleased. There, at 48 Conduit Street, just off London's Bond Street painted in pristine white (a colour of which she most definitely would have approved), is a shop dedicated to clothes designed within the rigorous aesthetic that defined her style. There, hanging on the rails, are the sort of clothes that her fans used to know and love - the signature soft jerseys, the supple suedes, the punched-leather gilets and jackets, the refined wools and silks, the deceptively simple lines that were the hallmark of her label. It is now some nine years since Jean Muir died, but her style is alive and well.
After her death a team of four women designers, who had all worked under the formidable Miss Muir - strictly trained in her disciplined ways, with the DNA of her label, so to speak, branded into their being - went on producing a Jean Muir range, but it was sold only in department stores such as Harvey Nichols. This is the first time that there has been a shop dedicated solely to the Jean Muir collection.
To some, the name Jean Muir may not resonate very loudly, but in certain circles, among women of a certain age, just the merest mention of it awakens memories of the days when she was one of the best-known dressmakers in the world. Many of these women still have the Jean Muir clothes they bought all those years ago, for they have a way of never dating. Those who are too young to have known her clothing in its heyday may be surprised to learn that there was a time, not that long ago (the 70s a 80s), when no fashionable British woman considered her wardrobe complete unless it included at least one Jean Muir classic.
And it wasn't just in Britain that she was so admired. When she Showed in Paris in 1972 even the French raved. 'Jean Muir's dresses have scored a triumph,' declared one fashion editor. They are the most beautiful in the world.' Another designer, a M Chakkal, declared that he had decided to offer no dresses that season, because 'what she does is absolute perfection'
Miss Muir, as she was known to everybody, except possibly her husband Harry Leuckert, started making clothes when attitudes to clothing were changing radically. Couture was becoming too expensive for all but the very rich. Women were becoming more and more active in the workplace. Clothes needed to be more comfortable, so that women could travel and work in them yet still look smart. Couture, on the whole, didn't do that. Jean Muir did. And she did it elegantly.
She was among the first to produce ready-to-wear clothes with a couture aesthetic. The fabric, the cut, the finish and the detailing were all as fine as she could make them. At lest, as one high-end retailer of the day put it, here were ready-to-wear clothes that 'a millionaire's daughter could wear'. In other words, they might have been available off-the-peg but the quality wasn't compromised. Today that may not sound something to sing about. but beck then it was exceptional.
Jean Muir is one of those designers who developed a strong signature line from the beginning. She was incapable of vulgarity or showmanship, ether in her personal or working life. Her label was pure, deceptively simple. It evolved, of course, but it never shocked or became perverse.
Much of the charm of Jean Muir clothes lies in the tension between the apparent severity and technical skill of the cut (she often described her cutting-room technique as 'engineering in cloth') and the sensuality inherent in the way they cling to the anatomy and swing as the wearer moves. She never, so far as I remember, described herself as a fashion designer. Nor did she ever seem part of the razzmatazz of the fashion world. She gave the impression of being a bit apart, aloof and above the fray. Not that she had any airs and graces. It was more that she had an inner certainty about what she was doing and she saw no need to look around and see what others were doing.
From the beginning - she started her own label in 1966, having worked for Jaeger, Liberty and Courtaulds before that - her clothes reflected a profound understanding of the qualities of the fabrics she used. She had discovered when she was very young that she had a sense of how things should be shaped and formed, and she started to make her own clothes when she was just 15. It was the clarity and consistency of her vision that made her label so distinctive. All through her 30 years in business something of her style remained unswervingly recognisable. She evolved with the times, but she remained resolutely Jean Muir throughout. She did 'little' dresses to perfection. Her colour palette tended to be sombre, but every now and again she would surprise with a brilliantly coloured cashmere cardigan or jumper.
She never did the outrageous, show-stopping number; her models never bared their thighs. Nor did she ever do 'cute'. She designed seriously grown-up, elegant clothes for the sort of worsen with whom she empathised - women with minds and ideas; intellectuals. artists, actresses. The roll call of those who wow and loved her clothes is long and distinguished. Joanna Lumley, who began her career as a ,Jean Muir house model, declared herself 'addicted', part of the reason being that 'her clothes last for ever'. The television presenters Selina Scott and Joan Bakewell, Anna Ford and Emily Maitless, the joumatiat Felicity Green, actresses such as Dames Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, Britt Ekland. Sylvia Kristel, Charlotte Rampling, Julie Walters, Ractirael Stirling and her mother Diana Rigg, and models such as Saffron Aldridge were and remain fans.
Jean Muir always described herself as a dressmaker, believing that she was first and foremost a craftswoman - disciplined, skilled and dedicated. Very early on she developed a uniform that she felt simplified her life and suited her aesthetic approach to clothing. Rather like Chanel before her, she fell in love with jersey and she had it made up into the navy blouses and wide navy trousers that she took to wearing every day. In all the years I knew her - though I never knew her well, I did know her for a long time - I never saw her wear anything but navy blue or wear her hair anything but short and slicked back behind the ears. Her foundation was a matt beige and her lips deep magenta. It's as if, having found a way of dressing that suited her, she was left free to think about the clothes she made for others. Her life, like her clothes, was concerned with the elimination of the inessential.
She was, in essence, a minimalist long before the word had become common currency. The large flat near London's Royal Albert Hall that she shared with her husband Harry was famously painted and furnished entirely in white. For somebody with such classic ways with clothes, her taste in interiors was surprisingly avant-garde, and the house she and her husband created in Northumberland was famously filled with the work of cutting-edge craftspeople of the day. She believed passionately in the importance of artist-craftspeople and saw their renaissance as one of the most exciting movements in late 20th-century design.
She always said that she wasn't interested in the past. 'I'm a now and future person,' she told an interviewer who asked one too many questions about a retrospective exhibition of her work. She'd be proud of the shop today, I believe. The spirit of Miss Muir is there. It's a shop where those who have never tried a bit of the Jean Muir way with cloth may be surprised by the seductive charms of her sinuously elegant lines. The polished tweed jackets, the beautifully worked suede and leather coats and gilets, the silkily sexy blouses, the deep-dyed jersey dresses, the sumptuous coats and knitwear contrive to be both very much in the mood of today and very much in the spirit of Jean Muir. It is a 'now and future' shop. Yes, I think Miss Muir would definitely approve.