With simple, classic designs, Jean Muir became known as the doyenne of British fashion, counting such luminaries as Princess Alexandra, Glenda Jackson and Lauren Bacall as clients. Similar to Diane von Furstenberg and her signature wrap dresses, Muir was most famous for the matte jersey dresses she initially designed for herself. Born in London, she got her fashion start at the age of 11 when she began designing her own clothing. Muir’s popular vintage dresses and gowns boast small shoulders, a slightly raised waist and a sheath-like skirt, perfect for someone with a petite frame like her own. In fact, Muir tried on every dress before it went into production.
The Jean Muir look — pared down, elegant and timeless — earned the designer an over 40-year-long career, which started in the stockroom at London’s famous Liberty luxury department store. Shortly after her stint in sorting inventory, she became a sketcher in the store’s made-to-measure department. After working as a designer for Jaeger, she was hired by dress manufacturer David Barnes in 1962. There, her jersey designs were so popular she was given her own label: Jane & Jane. She soon caught the attention of a buyer who brought her to Henri Bendel, where her career soared. Just four years after joining Jane & Jane, she started Jean Muir Ltd. with her husband, Harry Leuckert, a German actor.
During her long career, Muir never strayed from her signature long, fluid lines and feminine silhouettes that were especially flattering when the wearer moved. The jersey gave the dresses an architectural appearance and a flexibility in the designs as, unlike silk, the material doesn’t have to be hand-sewn or lined, nor do the edges need to be lined up and bound together to appear neat. Muir was particularly drawn to the simplicity of navy and black fabric, with topstitching giving even the most minimal styles some flair. Although jersey dominated her looks, she also worked with her team of expert craftspeople to punch patterns in suede, create draped textures with leather, tailor wool crepe, paint patterns on cashmere and stitch dramatic layers of tiered silk.
After her death, Muir’s team continued creating her beloved day dresses and evening gowns for another 12 years, carrying on her legacy. In 2007, the label closed, although the vintage dresses are enduringly popular with those seeking refinement and elegance in modern designs.