Jean Muir eschewed the title of fashion designer. And rightly, reckons Marion Hume, for her craftsmanship, integrity and purity were the stuff of legend; 'You have to concentrate, get it right, produce season after season. You have to know where to hold...
When Joan Juliet Buck, the editor of French Vogue, asked herself what should be the central feature of the June 1995 issue, the answer was "the best of London". This was to chart our capital's fashion swing; to show the French that London has its big names, too, its classicists and its hip young talent.

Many currently "hot" international fashion names are British or based in London. There's Vivienne Westwood and Rifat Ozbek, Manolo Blahnik and John Galliano. Yet when Buck had to decide who was important enough for the feature's opening full-page portrait by Snowdon, there was no contest. The result was the last portrait of Jean Muir, who died on Saturday.

There have been many tributes this week to the woman who was always known as "Miss Muir". But perhaps the greatest of them all, unintentionally of course, is Snowdon's portrait and the accompanying article. Vogue places Miss Muir, right up to her untimely end at 66 years of age, as a central force in British fashion, together with names that have recently created much more of a "buzz" in the fashion world.

When great designers die, there are always obituaries full of praise from those who have loved and those who have worn the designs. But most design- ers have their "moment", their "heyday", and the tales of greatness are often remembered from long ago. Rarely is there a designer whose work remains relevant over many years. One such was Coco Chanel, and another was Jean Muir.

More than 20 years after the death of Chanel, one still knows what is meant by "a very Chanel look" (despite some of the aberrations since committed under the brand name by Karl Lagerfeld). It is likely that, more than 20 years from now, those interested in fashion will still know exactly what is meant by "a very Miss Muir look".

Not that Jean Muir's appeal was confined to that often weird, inward- looking world called fashion. Women who are stylish, but would not call themselves fashionable, wear Jean Muir. She rarely grabbed headlines and almost never "held the front page" in the usual frenzied coverage of international fashion shows. Flashy celebrities have not chosen her clothes. Instead, "a very Miss Muir look" means something flattering, rigorously designed, something thought through.

She cared not a hoot for fashion. "Don't call me a fashion designer - self-important, pretentious term!" she told Georgina Howell in an interview in British Vogue in 1978. "The craft and the technique are almost more important than the design. If they are there, everything else is. I love the craft, the assembling of shape," she told Tony Glenville for French Vogue, in probably the last interview she gave.

Jean Muir's clothes were not often featured in magazines or newspapers for the simple reason that they were not terribly photogenic. Designed to flatter the vast varieties of female anatomy in movement or in repose, they lost much when translated into two dimensions. Yet her fans stayed loyal. Joanna Lumley (who looked so exuberantly vulgar in her Ab Fab role of Patsy) dresses with an almost startling quietness away from the cameras, thanks to a wardrobe filled with Jean Muir designs. Years ago, Lumley was a Jean Muir model and has never lost the Miss Muir habit.

This habit is one that professional women such as architects, television presenters, lawyers - indeed, any woman wealthy enough to afford prices necessitated by an insistence on the very highest quality of fabric and manufacture - are happy to boast of.

The appeal is not limited to mature women. A year ago, a colleague in her mid-twenties and I were trawling through the racks in New York's Bergdorf Goodman. We were arguing over a Comme des Garcons collection I had found particularly difficult.

"Go on," I said. "Find me one thing that you would really wear." With no small degree of triumph, she pulled out a simple, sensuous navy dress and we both agreed it was divine. Only when we saw the label did we realise it had been put on the wrong rack. It was by Jean Muir.

"This is a very demanding industry, not fly-by-night. You have to concentrate, get it right, produce season after season," she told me the last time we spoke. "You have to know where to hold back, where to excite, where to be intelligent. Even if in the end it looks as if you haven't changed, you shift slightly all the time." It was that slight shifting that kept women coming back for more.

"We believe she was a vital force in fashion, which is why she was so important for our London issue," says Joan Juliet Buck.

Ernestine Carter, the late doyenne of British fashion journalism, would have agreed. In The Changing World of Fashion (1977), Carter praised Muir's "qualities of fierce integrity, discipline and purity". What she stood for was an approach that was real rather than fashion fantastic, an approach now all too rare in the flash bulb- popping circus of fashion.

Jean Muir, who was of Scottish ancestry, was passionately commited to the project to establish a Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Her husband, Harry Leuckert, has asked that those wishing to pledge donations in tribute to Jean Muir make these to the new museum, where a fitting memorial to this great British designer will be established. Contact The Museum of Scotland Project on 0131 247 4388.