Jean Muir: a fashion icon

National Museums Scotland

National Museums Scotland acquired the Jean Muir archive in 2005. It comprises an estimated 18,000 objects, which fully document the design, making and promotion of Muir’s collections from 1966 to 1995. Explore highlights from the archive here.

Jean Muir at the National Museum of Scotland
Jean Muir's father hailed from Aberdeen, and she was immensely proud of her Scottish heritage. Before her death she had started fundraising for National Museums Scotland, and in 2005 Harry Leuckert donated the Jean Muir archive to the national collections. The archive consists of around 18,000 objects, and includes paper patterns, sketches, fabric samples, jewellery and accessories, as well as around 400 finished garments, including some of her personal clothing. Selected items are on display in the National Museum of Scotland, with many more stored at the National Museums Collection Centre. Find out more at <a href= target="_blank">the National Museums Scotland website</a>.
Who was Jean Muir?
Born in London in 1928, Muir left school at 17 and, after working briefly in office jobs, began her career in fashion as a stockroom assistant at Liberty & Co in 1950. She quickly transferred to the lingerie and Young Liberty sections, where she worked selling and sketching. Muir was a prolific home dressmaker and attended fashion illustration classes.
Jane & Jane
In 1956 Muir moved to Jaeger as a designer, where she developed a youth range. In 1962, she left Jaeger to design her first independent collection under the Jane & Jane label. In 1966, she founded Jean Muir Ltd with her husband, Harry Leuckert.
Inside the Jean Muir archive
Explore signature styles from the Jean Muir archive and discover what made her designs so innovative and enduring.

The clothes in themselves do not make a statement. The woman makes a statement and the dress helps.
- Jean Muir

Modern mood
From the first Jane & Jane designs onwards, Muir created feminine garments with simple silhouettes, designed to flatter the female form and to move freely with the wearer.

Muir loved modern shapes and this pleated, tiered silk chiffon dress captures the youthful 1960s fashion mood.

For me, the ultimate practitioner of perfect LBD chic was the late Jean Muir. With just a few metres of black jersey, Miss Muir could conjure up a dress, which was a master-class in elegance and refinement.
- Iain R Webb, fashion journalist

The Little Black Dress
This elegant black Jane & Jane dress once belonged to Joanna Lumley. It was not only her first Jean Muir purchase after becoming her house model in 1964, it was also her first 'little black dress'.

You don’t go about being in fashion in Jean Muir, you go about being in Jean Muir, which is kind of beyond fashion, you know.
- Joanna Lumley, former house model and muse

Pure Muir
Muir particularly enjoyed working with jersey. This fabric doesn’t need to be either hand-sewn or lined, or the edges bound to neaten them, but can be given an extraordinary architectural structure despite its supple qualities.

This dress features all the quintessential elements of Muir’s work: navy blue matte jersey, pin-tucking across the chest yoke, top-stitching, decorative buttons and the precise cut, fit and flare for which her jersey dresses were much admired.

Miss Muir wanted the darkest navy we had ever produced… It turned out to be a new ‘best seller’, known in the trade as ‘new black’ whilst to Miss Muir it was ‘midnight navy’.
- John Knox, John Knox & Sons, latterly Aire Valley Mills

A distinctive style
Muir is famous for her use of navy and black, but she was also a fantastic colourist, as this bold sweater dress demonstrates.

Sheer femininity
Muir’s use of prints gave her collections vibrancy. She favoured supple fabrics, such as this silk georgette, which took the pigment well but also responded beautifully to a woman’s body. This maxi-dress is enlivened by the bold leaf print, echoed in the sequin embellishment at the neckline and cuffs.

Although Muir’s dresses appeared simple in shape, they were always intricately made and were the result of fastidious attention to detail – the tiers of chiffon in this dress are hemmed with lines of top-stitching.

She was just… the best at dresses that ever happened.
- Mary Quant, fashion designer

Clever cutting
Muir’s work in suede often featured experimental cutting, hand-punching, printing and a beautiful use of colour. This very feminine jacket demonstrates her technical excellence, with the use of clever cutting and pleating to create the full sleeve shape.

Muir had a wonderful facility for carrying characteristic details of each season’s designs across the collection. Motifs printed onto jersey would be hand-punched or stamped into suede, bringing a unity to her work and helping to define the Jean Muir look.

I love the actual assembling of the structure, and that has to be as precise as any engineer, in a way.
- Jean Muir

Soft skins
Muir’s skill for using soft, pliable skins like woven fabric is illustrated by this leather jacket, which falls softly in a feminine, flowing shape. It was working with matte jersey, with its ability to take architectural shapes but to remain restrained and fluid, that taught Muir to work in leather. This jacket features all the classic elements associated with Muir’s designs, with striking contrasting top-stitching, pin-tucking and statement buttons, mirroring her work in jersey.

Working in harmony
Jean Muir frequently commissioned prints for her collections, but she also loved the aesthetic qualities of Liberty fabric. She would often source textiles from the company’s archive, such as the silk used in this dress.

Muir’s printed fabrics were tailored with particular care, so that her fabrics and shapes would work in harmony. This dress combines print with her signature use of decorative acrylic buttons and lines of top-stitching.

I don't even like the word 'fashion' very much. I always said that the word 'fashion' should be used in its original sense… as a verb, 'to fashion', meaning 'to make'.
- Jean Muir

Hand crafted fabrics
Creating a Jean Muir collection involved collaborating with many highly skilled craftspeople. Muir saw technical excellence and craft skills as fundamental to turning her ideas into successful clothing.

For this striking coat she worked with Annie Sherburne to create this hand-made felt. The painterly abstract pattern mirrors Muir’s work with intarsia-knitted cashmere sweater dresses and reflects her readiness to inject colour into her wool designs.

Her clothes are bought by women who are self-confident; they are recognisably Jean Muir to those that understand that but they don’t shout that.
- Suzy Menkes, fashion journalist

Painting in cashmere
Muir loved the versatility of wool and her designs often featured ribbing, cabling and intarsia, a technique used to create block patterns with multiple colours, without carrying the yarns across the back of the fabric. She was particularly fond of cashmere because it took colour so beautifully and each season she ordered yarn from the Scottish cashmere specialists, Todd and Duncan.

This intarsia knit sweater features the ‘JM’ signature logo and the abstract faces that recurred often across her collections.

Whatever the circumstances — design studio or cocktail bar — she remained ‘Miss Muir’ — never ‘Jean’.
- Joyce Fenton-Douglas, Assistant to Jean Muir 1986-95, Director of Design, Jean Muir Ltd 1995-2007

The Jean Muir archive also contains a selection of innovative jewellery designed by Muir. Explore some highlights here.
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