Jean Muir: a fashion icon, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

When dressmaking was 'painting in cashmere'

Had had she not been a fashion designer Jean Muir claimed she would have loved to have been a dancer. You can see that in the theatrical style and flowing fabrics of the clothes in an exhibition that exudes her characteristic elegance. Designed to skim flatteringly over the body in the way they move, these costumes – with their fluid silhouettes and sophisticated swirls – take on a life of their own.

Just 30 finished garments and accessories, along with sketches, intriguing pieces of patterns, toiles or trial garments and swatches of fabric as well as a glimpse into Muir's production process, are on display in Jean Muir: A Fashion Icon.

When Muir's widower and business partner Harry Leuckert donated the Jean Muir archive to the National Museum of Scotland four years ago, staff counted 18,000 items, making it the biggest archive of a fashion designer anywhere in the world. The collection – dating from 1966 until Muir's death in 1995 – will eventually form an educational resource at the museum's centre on the waterside at Granton.

Walking around the exhibition is like delving into an endless and very high-quality dressing-up drawer. Only you can't touch, of course. And that is the irresistible temptation when faced with these tactile materials – matte jersey, wool crepe, suede, leather and knitwear – the seductive signature fabrics from her work under the Jane & Jane label and later Jean Muir Ltd.

Muir knew what she was talking about when she described what she did as "engineering with cloth". The precision and perfectionism she applied is as evident in a printed leather jacket as in a set of comical cow buttons from 1972 inspired by the sight of grazing cattle. Muir was enormously proud of her Scottish heritage and did much to support the country's wool industry from her design house on London's Bruton Street. She also saw her work as "painting in cashmere", evident in the vibrant dots and dashes knitted and chain-stitched into one piece ,and the quirky sweater dress of 1989 based on the shape and colours of an artist's palette.

Considering Muir's strict adherence to "any colour as long as it's navy blue", it's a surprise to find so much ravishing colour here, not just in subtle detail or wacky accessories but in whole outfits drawn from her vibrant Australian bicentennial collection of 1988.

Inspired by the Great Barrier Reef and paraded across the stage of the Sydney Opera House, they include a star hat, barnacle brooches, an astonishing felt coat that reeks of salt water and a sweater with fish netted in it. A later abstract intarsia crevette sweater-dress was based on a prawn-themed item from the Australian collection. Muir claimed not to produce "young kooky fashions" but she certainly enjoyed injecting wit into her work. There's whimsy too in dragonfly patterns and homages to Pierrot.

It's easy to pick out the influence she had on some of today's designers including Manolo Blahnik and Issey Miyake. Those who swear by her cut include Claudia Schiffer, Sienna Miller. Lauren Bacall, Barbara Streisand and Diana Rigg, whose PVC catsuit Muir designed, among other of Rigg's costumes for The Avengers. The voice of Joanna Lumley follows you round the exhibition in an audio clip from No Room for Secrets in which the actress reminisces about her experiences as a house model for Muir. She goes so far as to declare that her favourite Muir dress "transformed her life utterly".

Video footage from the 1990s shows Muir at work and reinforces the iconic image of the plain bobbed hair, simple dark dress, chalky make-up and russet lipstick – of a woman who knew her own mind, learning her craft on the shop floor. A portrait by Norman Parkinson shows her posing with other top British fashion designers of swinging London, including Mary Quant. For Muir, "fashion" was a verb and, as curator Kristina Stankovski demonstrates, she fashioned herself seamlessly to the top of the British design and dressmaking industry.



To 15 March. National Museum of Scotland Chambers St, Edinburgh. Then at the National Museum of Costume, Dumfries 3 April-31 October

Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map