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 Sunday Times, 30 May 1995
Died in The London Clinic
on May 28 aged 66.
She was born on July 17,1928.
Mistress of the uncompromising English understatement in fashion, Jean Muir always preferred the label dressmaker to that of designer. In the midst of the seismic fashion revolution of the Sixties she created outfits according to minimalist, disciplined and above all consistent principles. These were to outlive the chaotic decade of their birth, to seem not at all out of place in the purposeful Thatcherite Eighties and to survive triumphantly into the more uncertain climate of the Nineties.
It was often said that her collections were a disappointment to headline writers. Jackets and skirts which were in fact miracles of cutting, born out of a profound understanding of the qualities of the fabrics she used, did not necessarily go out of their way to woo the cameras crouching at catwalk level. It was as if the touch of Calvinism in her own nature, inherited perhaps from Scottish ancestry on her father's side. had transferred itself to her creative output. This remained, in spite of the gales and currents that swirled about it year by year, obdurately true to itself.
None of this stopped her from quietly garnering a reputation which was. at length to. become unassailable as; simply, the best clothes designer of her day in Britain. Princess Alexandra, Lady Antonia Fraser, Joanna Lumley (once one of her models) and Glenda Jackson were among her many clients. After she had been appointed CBE in 1984 France, too, handsomely acknowledged her achievement when, in 1985, she was accorded the accolade of I'Hommage de la Mode by the Federation du Pret a Porter Feminin.
Jean Elizabeth Muir was born in London but brought up in Bedford where she went to Dame Harper School. Though she took what she described as a "very moderate School Certificate" there, she was encouraged by a sympathic teacher in a love of art and all things visual.
She left at 17 and went to work in the electoral registration office at Bedford Town Hall, before coming to London where, after a short period in a solicitor's office, she took a lowly berth in the stockroom of Liberty's. From there she graduated to selling over the counter and, though without any formal art college training, was given the opportunity to sketch in the ready to wear department.
This was to be her apprenticeship and it was good enough for her to be taken seriously when she applied, in 1956, for a job as a designer at Jaeger, for which she was accepted. After six years at Jaeger she moved in 1962 to the Jane & Jane label. In 1965 she won an Ambassador Award for Achievement for one of her independent collections and in the following year, when Jane & Jane's parent company was taken over by by Courtaulds, Muir and her husband Harry Leuckert, whom she had married in 1955, decided to start their own company, Jean Muir.
Over the next thirty years she created and unswervingly maintained the style that was instantly recognisable as her stamp. Her hemlines never yo yoed between seasons from mid thigh to mid calf. Her colours would not, suddenly and stridently, inhabit unexpected and bizarre portions of the spectrum. Her models never made revelations of flesh intended to be seductive (with tabloid and often not so tabloid papers in mind) to the camera eye. Neither did her girls stomp the runways to the crash of heavy metal rock music.
Instead, utter simplicity was her hallmark. She made the "little nothing" of a black dress a classic. In a world of violent change she adhered to certain principles, "engineering with fabric" as she liked to call it. This adherence did not imply conservatism. But the evolution from the Sixties through the following decades was a matter of subtle change. And the skills of cut and drape of which she was so totally a master were often more appreciated by the fashion critics of the Continent than they were at home. The simplicity, too, was often deceptive. The tiniest of jackets might contain 18 pattern pieces.
Her personal style exemplified the same tenacious single mindedness that characterised her collections. From an early age she had decided to wear only one colour herself navy (though she later also wore black). And although her flat behind the Albert Hall was painted entirely white white floors, white walls and decorated with white flowers (she was particularly fond of cammelias), this contrast was not really what it, might have seemed These domestic surroundings were, like her professional work, minimalist. There was very little clutter, very little furniture. Like her fashion, her life was an elimination of the nonessential.
Among the many honours that came her way, she was made a Royal Designer, for Industry (RDI) in 197Z and had a British Fashion Industry Award in 1984. She also held honorary doctorates from a number of universities.
Her CBE of 1984 recognised her services to industry but one of the honours which gave her most pleasure was her honorary doctorate from the Royal College of Art in 1981, since this was a direct acknowledgement of the tireless campaign she fought for more and better design education at school and college levels. Her forceful paper to the Royal Society of Arts in 1979 insisted on the need for setting standards of design teaching. She herself liked nothing better than working with fledgeling designers and imparting her ideas to them. She had also been a member of the Design Council since 1983 and a Trustee of the Victoria and Albert museum since 1984.
To the end Jean Muir maintained a refusal 'to be nostalgic about the decade in which she had found fame. In the Sixties, England lost sight of many things. I think it was then that fashion came to be considered "frivolous and undisciplined".; About herself and her craft, she was never sentimental, either. "I'm not necessarily hung upon dress design. It just happens to be the kind of design 1 find myself in. Fate led me to Liberty's, but it might have led me to Heal's." This was of a piece with the realism, self awareness and restraint which characterised her indelible contribution to the history of contemporary English fashion.
She is survived by her husband and business manager, Harry Leuckert.