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.
A description by Jean Muir of her 'White Flat'
From 'An Englishwoman's House' edited by Alvilde Lees-Milne
photographs by Derry Moore, Published by Collins - ISBN 0-00-217344-1
Ten years ago we were living in a flat in Pont Street, full of colour, pattern, ornaments and paintings. Work was increasingly hard. I was dashing backwards and forwards from America, and as the pressure grew, so did the feeling that we should simplify the way we lived. The concept we had of a way to live that would balance the working life was, in a sense, a reflection of my love for the workrooms - the feeling of space around you, good proportions, decks cleared, a studio atmosphere and beautiful light.
As the feeling became a necessity, we began to look for more space and a friend who lived in the building introduced us to a marvellously proportioned flat behind the Albert Hall. It was rather grandly built by a Victorian speculator who ran out of money before the block was completed, so the story goes.
I do not remember that we consciously decided 'We will have a white flat', but that is what it seemed right to do. A good decorator painted it white from one end to the other. The walls of the biggest rooms are lined with a particularly rough hessian as a base for the paint, which gives a good texture, and there are fine white blinds at all the windows. Alan Irvine, the architect and a fellow Royal Designer for Industry, led us to some good synthetic white flooring he found in France for an exhibition he was designing. It is matt and not cold to touch nor underfoot.
The embroidered bedspread comes from Cyprus.
One day when the flat was ready, instead of going home to Pont Street, my husband and I simply came here instead and were joined by our housekeeper Carmen, who has been with us for fifteen years. All we had with us were our toothbrushes and make-up, and I don't think we went back to Pont Street for five or six weeks. By then, although our old flat held fond memories, it looked far too busy and complicated. We wanted to jettison our possessions, and very, very few things made the journey with us to Kensington.
Here we have only what we use: lovely bare white spaces and one or two essential and moveable pieces of furniture and a good kitchen and bathroom. What we did not want was ever to have to say 'This is the dining-room' or 'This is the sitting-room'. We have ten white calico seating units, designed for visitors to margin5ture galleries, and these usually go along the length of one wall to make a long sofa though they are moved constantly. Our four tables, all alike, were carefully worked out and designed with John Minshure to be linked together or moved apart. Everything rolls smoothly across the floor - tables, chairs and the clinical trolleys where one stacks make-up or linen.
length of the flat
Once you have eliminated all the things you don't like you get down to the bare essentials and the formula that is perfect for yourself. Just as I begin a dress from the proper proportions of the body and resist additions, I have learnt to simplify my life in all directions. If, for instance, you don't want to come home to a clutter of letters, the way to deal with it is not to keep tidying but get rid of the desk itself.
The effect of the empty white spaces is to give a lift to any colour that enters the room. Food looks wonderful in the flat, as do books, a pot by Fiona Salazar and Mo Jupp's sculpture. People also stand out - it worries some.
There are two ideas for the flat that we thought through but never completed. The walls of every room are wired for sound, but we never connected up the system. We had plans to project slides onto the walls so that we could have a perpetually changing exhibition of margin5tures. The one thing we did take enormous trouble with was the lighting, which consists of very small white spotlights placed at intervals around the margin5ture rails, very similar to the lighting in the showroom in Bruton Street. There is a wide and very long arched corridor that runs from the front door to the far end of the flat, and in the evening with the lights turned low it has a cool, classical look to it which reminds me of Greece in late evening: calm, still and free.
finely engraved Venetian glass, which catches
and reflects the light.
The only large room whose purpose is immediately obvious is the bedroom. The bed has a white embroidered linen bedspread made by nuns in Cyprus, and all the walls are veiled by white curtains hung from ceiling to floor. These on one side cover the window, which shines through, and on the other hide a large built cupboard where I hang my clothes and keep my shoes and handbags. Clothes need to breathe not to be crushed.
We have only two pieces of decorative furniture in the flat, and they are both in the bedroom: a chair and double seat in heavy, finely engraved Venetian glass, bought from Christopher Vane-Percy and apparently from the palace of the Nizam of Hyderabad. They repeat and catch the varying lights. On the bed and the chairs are a collection of pillows and small cushions in lace-edged linen and cotton with embroidery and drawn thread work. Most of them were made in my workrooms by sewing together the traycloths I had collected over the years. It is Carmen's particular pleasure to keep these absolutely snow white and perfectly pressed. I treasure a white patchwork cushion made of tiny white moire triangles starred with small silver sequins, a gift from a good friend, Naomi Langley.
The white calico seating units are
Where a room has a function we wanted it to be completely efficient. A good, well-equipped kitchen and a comfortable, attractive bathroom were essentials. Harry and I are both good cooks and enjoy making our own meals, particularly when we are in London at the weekends. The kitchen was the only room we thought out and planned in great detail, in consultation with a firm called Kitchen Planners. It was beautifully executed with a bank of well-finished cupboards, drawers and surfaces in black oak, and the central unit accommodates gas, electricity and even calor gas, ready for any emergency. The equipment came from a superb German firm called Poggenpohi; it has stood the test of ten years and still looks marvellous.
To anyone who saw the flat in its original state, the bathroom would probably be the most surprising room. From a tiny, depressing closet it underwent an amazing transformation when we covered all wall and ceiling surfaces with enormous panels of glass, and found a wide triangular ivory bathtub to fit across one corner, making the most of the floor space. The step in the ceiling, which accommodated part of the structure of the building, adds to the effect of standing in a tall gallery of mirrors throwing reflections back and forward to each other.
to be linked together and
The only other rooms in the flat other than Carmen's are a spare bedroom and Harry's dressing-room and bathroom, with a wooden sauna and a wall of books and more books - our great indulgence - opposite the cupboard where he keeps his clothes and fishing gear.
One aspect of the flat which gives me great pleasure is the evening light as it slants in and filters through the fine blinds. I love the perspectives of the view. Surprisingly close, you see the details of the frieze that circles the Albert Hall, and beyond, the Albert Memorial lifts its spires above the trees of Kensington Gardens.
The life that goes on in and around the Albert Hall gives a particular character to our life here. When they raise the immense ventilators in the glass roof you can hear the music quite clearly. From our windows you can look down and see not only the musicians but perhaps the Boys' Brigade lining up with the band, the Institute of Directors, the Salvation Army or the Prom crowds. One advantage of living here is that if we go to a concert we can come home for a drink in the interval. How thrilled I was last year to speak at the AGM of that wonderful institution the Women's Institute.
filter light into the flat.
From the flat, the drive to Bruton Street through Hyde Park, or to our new premises in Farringdon Road through Knightsbridge past Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and along the Embankment, takes us through the heart of London. Depending on what time we leave, the park has a particular cast of characters. At 7.30 to 8 am there are the joggers, and sometimes the tramp with her suitcases of old newspapers. Half an hour later there's the man who does military exercises by himself in a corner of the Gardens, and the horses from the barracks being exercised in the Row, and so much more.
There are other areas in our lives where we accumulate and revise, but the original concept, to find a way of living at home which perfectly suits our London life, found its equation in this flat. We haven't wanted to alter it, we have resisted adding anything, and it has remained a perfectly satisfactory solution for ten years. When will we move on? Who knows? Instinct will tell.