MUIR, Jean (1928–1995)
Plaque erected in 2021 by English Heritage at 22 Bruton Street, Mayfair, London, W1J 6QE, City of Westminster
Dressmaker and Fashion Designer
Applied Arts, Fine Arts
JEAN MUIR 1928-1995 Dressmaker and Fashion Designer worked here 1966-1995
Jean Muir is regarded as one of the greatest dressmakers of the 20th century, renowned for her timeless designs and high standards of craftsmanship. Her blue plaque commemorates 22 Bruton Street in Mayfair, where she worked from 1966 until her death in 1995. The office and showroom on the first floor continued to operate as the home of the Jean Muir Ltd brand until 2007.
EARLY DRESSMAKING CAREER
After a brief stint as a clerk in Bedford, where her family had moved from London, Jean Elizabeth Muir moved to back to the capital in her early 20s. She gained her first experience of the fashion industry at Liberty’s department store, where she became immersed in the world of pattern, colour, and dress history. In the Lingerie Department she began to make sketches for customers who were buying made-to-measure, and in the Young Liberty Department she learnt about fabrics, fitting, the time-table of a retail organisation and its relationship with the wholesaler. At the same time she started making her own clothes and cutting her own patterns, and took classes in Fashion Drawing at St Martin’s School of Art.
In 1956 she moved to Jaeger and introduced the Young Jaeger line so successfully that when she left in 1962 she was able to produce her first independent collection for a new company, Jane and Jane. Muir did not own the label but its design and direction were under her complete control. In 1963 she was among the group of young fashion designers, including Mary Quant, Sally Tuffin and Marion Foale, photographed for Life magazine. The following year British Vogue hailed her as ‘one of the new young names that are giving the Sixties an accent all their own’.
JEAN MUIR LTD
1966, Muir left Jane and Jane to set up her own business. Her intention was to make clothes with a couture look and feel, for which she coined the phrase ‘Wholesale Couture’. At Jean Muir Ltd she pursued what she called ‘an evolutionary, not a revolutionary, approach’, developing a distinctive line of sophisticated minimalism. Muir was clear about her design philosophy. Reacting against the 1960s concept of dress designing as fine art, Muir stressed that the creation of clothes was not an art but an industry. She preferred the term ‘dressmaker’, to 'fashion designer', and described her craft as ‘engineering in cloth’.
For the next 30 years Muir produced flattering, grown-up women’s clothes, most often in jersey, soft suede or leather, and wools – fabrics which hung, moved and, importantly, photographed well – with rows of top-stitching as a trademark finish. Jean Muir Ltd made some clothes for private clients – Margaret Thatcher amongst others – but the main business was expensive ready-to-wear garments, sold through carefully selected stores. Loyal customers included Lady Antonia Fraser, Joanna Lumley (who was a long-time house model), and Patricia Hodge, whose clothes in the 1983 film Betrayal were all designed by Muir.
Muir was lauded within the fashion world. Her designs featured on more than 20 Vogue covers, and there was a British touring exhibition devoted to her work in the 1980s. But she was also honoured outside of her industry – in 1972 she was granted the prestigious title Royal Designer for Industry and the following year she became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
WORKING LIFE AT BRUTON STREET
Jean Muir Ltd had its grand showroom and an office on the first floor of 22 Bruton Street from the inception of the company in 1966 until its closure in 2007. There were further facilities on the lower ground floor and, over the years various additional spaces were leased further along Bruton Street, and at other locations in Mayfair.
The showroom was the space in which Muir always presented her seasonal fashion shows, after which the collection was presented to store buyers by appointment. It was, for Muir, a special space in an area she loved – she entertained at the Connaught Hotel, shopped for provisions in Mount Street and Davies Street, and bought paintings from the galleries in Bruton Street.
Muir would have cut an impressive figure on her trips around Mayfair. From the 1970s she cultivated an idiosyncratic personal image, almost always dressing in navy or black jersey, with mask-like make-up and smoothly bobbed hair. Intentionally formidable, she insisted on being addressed as ‘Miss Muir’ and required high standards of professionalism and comportment from her staff. She asserted that ‘proper attention to dress is a sign of self-respect and respect for the order of things’.
Jean Muir died of cancer on May 28 1995, and was buried in St Bartholomew Churchyard, Whittingham, near her Northumberland home. Her husband, Harry Leuckert, continued to run Jean Muir Ltd, working with the existing staff and bringing in his daughter and her husband to help manage the business. In 2004, the company attempted a foray into direct retail, with a glamorous shop in Conduit Street, but the shop and Jean Muir Ltd both closed in 2007.