Jean Muir - Fashion Designer Encyclopedia



British designer

Born: Jean Elizabeth Muir in London, circa 1930. Education: Dame Harper School, Bedford. Family: Married actor Harry Leuckert.

Jean Muir, autumn/winter 2001 collection. © Reuters NewMedia Inc./CORBIS.
Jean Muir, autumn/winter 2001 collection.
© Reuters NewMedia Inc./CORBIS.
Career: Sales assistant in lingerie and made-to-measure departments, Liberty, London, 1950-55; studied fashion drawing and modeled at St Martin's School of Art, London; joined Jacqmar then Jaeger, 1956-63; studied knitwear design and manufacture, especially jersey, and visited Paris collections; worked at Courtaulds, 1966-69; created own label, Jane & Jane, 1967; formed Jean Muir Ltd. with husband, 1986; sold majority interest to Coats Paton group; bought back 75-percent stake in company, 1989; Jean Muir department in Jaeger's flagship store, London. Awards: British Fashion Writers Group Dress of the Year award, 1964; Harper's Bazaar trophy; Ambassador award for Achievement, 1965; Maison Blanche Rex awards, 1967, 1968, 1974, 1976; Churchman's Fashion Designer of the Year award, 1970; Royal Society of Arts Royal Designer for Industry, 1972; elected fellow of RSA; Neiman Marcus award, 1973; elected fellow of Chartered Society of Designers, 1978; Bath Museum of Costume Dress of the Year award, 1979; named Honorary Doctor, Royal College of Art, 1981; appointed to the Design Council, London, 1983; made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, 1984; awarded Hommage de la Mode, Fédération Française du Prêt-á-Porter Féminin; British Fashion Council award for Services to Industry, 1985; Chartered Society of Designers medal; Textile Institute Design medal, 1987; Australian Bicentennial award, 1988; The Ford award, 1989. Honorary Degree, Doctor of Literature, University of Newcastle. Died: 28 May 1995, in London.

Publications

By MUIR:

Books

Jean Muir, London, 1981.

Articles

"Getting Going," in The Designer (London), October 1979.

On MUIR:

Books

MacCarthy, Fiona, and Patrick Nuttgens, Eye for Industry: Royal Designers for Industry, 1936-1986, exhibition catalogue, London 1986.

Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York, 1996.

Articles and Video

"Jean Muir Designs," in The Times (London), 4 November 1971.

"1979 Design for Bath Museum," in the Sunday Times, 2 September 1979.

"Great British Design: Jean Muir," in Vogue (London), August 1981.

Green, Felicity, "The Gospel According to St Muir," in the Sunday Telegraph Magazine (London), 8 March 1987.

"Designers Take Two," in Good Housekeeping (London), March 1988.

Lambert, Elizabeth, and Derry Moore, "The Essential Jean Muir: Composition in White for Her London Apartment," Architectural Digest, September 1988.

Maitliss, Nicky, "A Day in the Life of Jean Muir," in the Sunday Times Magazine (London), 13 November 1988.

Jean Muir, autumn/winter 2001 collection: silk multicolored dress. © Reuters New Media Inc./CORBIS.
Jean Muir, autumn/winter 2001 collection: silk multicolored dress.
© Reuters New Media Inc./CORBIS.

Dutt, Robin, "Jean Muir Interview," in Clothes Show (London), February 1989.

"Winter '89," in DR: The Fashion Business (London), 4 March 1989.

Klensch, Elsa, " Style with Elsa Klensch," (video), CNN Special Reports, 6 May 1989.

McCooey, Meriel, "The Prime of Miss Jean Muir," in the Sunday Times Magazine (London), 13 January 1991.

Webb, Ian R., "Secure with Miss Muir," in Harpers & Queen (London), March 1991.

van der Post, Lucia, "The Queen of Simple Chic," in the Financial Times (London), 9 March 1991.

Rawlinson, Richard, "Pure Miss Muir," in DR: The Fashion Business (London), 11 May 1991.

Menkes, Suzy, "Twenty-Five Years of Disciplined Design," in the International Herald Tribune (Paris), 21 May 1991.

—, "Muir's Classical Rigor," in the International Herald Tribune (Paris), 30 May 1995.

Fallon, James, "UK Designer Jean Muir Dead at 66," in WWD, 30 May 1995.

Obituary, in Time, 12 June 1995.

Bowles, Hamish, "The Prime of Miss Jean Muir," in Vogue, September 1995.

* * *

Jean Muir was noted for simple, flattering, and extremely feminine clothes that were sophisticated yet retain a handcrafteded look with diligent attention to detail. Her favorite fabrics—jersey, angora, wool crêpe, suede, and soft leather—reappeared time after time, regardless of trends. Her more famous clients included actresses Joanna Lumley and Patricia Hodge and writers and artists such as Lady Antonia Fraser and Bridget Riley.

Muir was renowned for producing clothes women really wanted to wear and felt comfortable in. She achieved this by modeling all the clothes and toiles herself at fittings, an advantage she believed she had over male designers. "If you're going to make clothes, the first thing you have to understand is the female anatomy. When I try on a dress, I can feel if something is wrong; I can tell if it's not sitting properly on the shoulders or the bust or the hip. I couldn't tell these things if I saw it on a stand," she had explained.

There was an air of the fashion headmistress in Jean Muir's approach; her steadfast opinions could not be budged. Her tone was unrelenting when she stressed a need to restore a sense of pride in the technique of making clothes and her passion for "art, craft and design and the upholding of standards and quality, maintaining them and setting new ones." She believed fashion was not art but industry. The word fashion, she said, suggested the "transient and the superficial," hardly the best attributes for a commercial business. Muir described her work as being based on intuition, aesthetic appreciation, and mathematical technical expertise. Never at the cutting edge of fashion, the clothes were timeless, understated, and often dateless. Like Fortuny or Chanel, the company based its look on the evolution of a singular theme, a soft, supple fluidity of cut which created the form of a garment.

In person Muir epitomized the type of woman for whom she liked to design. Writer Antonia Fraser described her as a "modish Puck" with a white, powdered face with a mouth slashed in crimson lipstick. Muir had a wiry, bird-like frame and was always dressed in navy calf-length jersey dresses, with black stockings and Granny shoes. In her studio Muir had a reputation for perfectionism and exacting standards in all aspects of production. "There are tremendous activities involved in the making of clothes," she declared in a television interview, with such conviction that the viewer was left in no doubt about her sincerity.

In the annals of fashion history Jean Muir should be remembered as a designer who liberated the body. While many designers have forced bodies into structured tailoring, boning, or restrictive interfaced fabrics, Muir's fluid and easy clothes always provided an emancipated alternative; devoid of structure and underpinning, the clothes nevertheless remained womanly and melodious.

—Kevin Almond

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