Jean Muir is considered to be one of the most iconic female fashion designers of the twentieth-century. Her designs are best known for their understated elegance, which heavily influenced the European fashion industry at the time, producing minimalist, yet stylish, pieces of clothing. Muir herself was said to wear navy throughout her life.
Although diminutive in stature at only five feet tall, she was a force to be reckoned with and was always known gallantry as Miss Muir rather than Jean. While adored by many, she was considered intimidating due to her strive for perfectionism and strong work ethic. This is perhaps why she counts royals and acclaimed celebrities amongst some of her clients. Despite her success, she rejected being labelled as a designer and instead preferred the term ‘dressmaker.’ Her modest attitude towards her designs is apparent when she claims that ‘the clothes in themselves do not make a statement. The woman makes a statement and the dress helps’.
Never short of admirers, she was been branded the ‘painter of modern life’ by the poet Baudelaire and was affectionately known in France as the ‘la reine de la robe,’ which loosely translates as ‘queen of the dress.’
"The clothes in themselves do not make a statement. The woman makes a statement and the dress helps." — Jean Muir
Born in 1928, her appetite for fashion was apparent from a young age: she began to sew at the age of six. Her first real taste of fashion began at Liberty & Co in 1950, where she worked briefly as a stockroom assistant. She worked in the lingerie and Young Liberty sections and was later given the opportunity to work within the ready to wear department at Liberty sketching clothes, despite no formal training.
In 1956, she gained a job as a designer at Jaeger and went on to develop the Young Jaeger collection. Six years later, she left Jaeger to establish her own brand, Jane & Jane, funded by David Barnes, a mass-market manufacturer of jersey dresses. While designing for Jane and Jane, Muir was awarded three Dress Of The Year awards, one of which is preserved at The Bath Fashion Museum. It was not until 1966 that she founded her eponymous company, Jean Muir Ltd.
Many of her dress designs and collection have since been donated and can be viewed at the National Museum of Scotland, which holds many of her best known work, such as the Little Black Dress, which used to belong to Joanna Lumley. The Bath Fashion Museum features her 1974 lemon coloured jersey dress as part of ‘A History of Fashion in 100 objects’ collection.
Although she died in 1995, she is still recognised as being one of the most influential designers of the time, a true fashion icon of the twentieth-century.