www.jeanmuir.info
Joanna Lumley models a Muir jersey outfit

JEAN MUIR was the most reliable name in British fashion. In the lean years of the late Eighties and early Nineties, when the idiosyncrasies of young British designers drastically damaged our reputation, there was still Miss Muir to prove that at least one Brit could produce beautiful, elegant and wearable clothes with international status.

Her remarkable career began in the Sixties, when she came to prominence with the Jane & Jane collection she designed for Susan Small. The clothes were young and modern, but never guilty of the excesses of Swinging Sixties style. Alone of the British designers of that generation, Jean Muir remained at the cutting edge of, fashion for more than 30 years.

Her disciplined approach to design was undoubtedly at the root of her staying power. She never forgot that her role was to make women look and feel confident, comfortable and elegant. The fabrics she used in those first days remained the basis for all her subsequent collections. The viscose jersey usually in her favourite navy blue, but often in black became her signature, and she crafted it into deceptively simple, easy little dresses or tunic tops and trousers. They were pieces to take you anywhere: no matter how formal or informal the occasion, you never looked over or under dressed. Women of all shapes and sizes could rely on a flattering fit that skimmed rather than gripped.

She performed the same feats with butter soft suede and leather, cutting coats and jackets with the fall and drape of satin. Wool crepe was another constant for suits. The only time her stringent good taste broke away was with her knitwear, which could appear at her (always modest) catwalk presentations in bold colour combinations, and op art patterns. Another departure was in the jewellery she chose to accessorise her clothes. She was a supporter of young jewellers, and commissioned many of them to design pieces to complement her collections.

Her spare and simple clothes provided a perfect canvas for the wearer's individual expression one reason, perhaps, that they appealed to many women with an artistic bent. They were an expensive investment, but could be worn for decades.

If Jean Muir's clothes were models of such perfection, why, I hear you ask, did they not feature more frequently on the fashion pages? Her consistency was one reason her style was established reassuring, but no longer surprising. In addition, her clothes were notoriously difficult to photograph. The two dimensional image missed the fluid movements, the feel of the fabric, the intricacy of the seaming or clever tailoring.

Miss Muir never berated hapless fashion editors for this omission. She was always available to comment or assist in any way. Yet I, like many journalists, felt a certain nervousness at interviewing her. This was primarily from respect, but also from a determination to keep the "hmms hmms" at bay. "Hmms" were Miss Muir's punctuations. They were also an indication that you were being boring.

Thousands of faithful customers will be in mourning. Jean Muir has been a force for so long it is hard to envisage British fashion without her.