Adventures in haute couture

Bloomsbury, 176pp, 9.99

JEAN MUIR WAS THE FASHION ICON who declared that she was not about fashion at all. One of the most admired designers of the 20th century, Muir was, paradoxically for the daughter of a Scot, the stylish mistress of the uncompromising English understatement in fashion a word she disdained because she thought it should be used only as a verb, as in “to fashion something”.

We’ve just had the 40th anniversary of Muir’s eponymous label, and it’s being celebrated with the publication of Jean Muir: Beyond Fashion, the first book about the life and work of an intellectually rigorous designer who preferred the label dressmaker, seeing herself as part of a historic continuity of the craft and trade of clothes.

When London started to swing, as journalist and fashion lecturer Felicity Green points out in her foreword to this beautifully illustrated book,wholesale nfl jerseys from china Muir was part of a talented team of designers and photographers who established this country as the epicentre of an extraordinary style revolution.

Petite in her trademark navy blue, Muir survived that era’s ephemeral fads and dafter fantasies, mainly because her elegant clothes were timeless, sheer miracles of cutting, born out of her innate understanding of the qualities of the fabrics she used jerseys, silks, cashmeres, suedes and leathers. It was as if the touch of Calvinism in her own nature, inherited perhaps from her Aberdonian father her mother was English and Muir herself was born in London had transferred itself to her creative output.

Stemp, who was Muir’s personal assistant for seven years, believes that her influence on a generation of designers has been profound. She will carry on influencing future generations since her remarkable archive, which includes more than 18,000 items ranging from sketches to finished garments, was recently gifted to the National Museums of Scotland by Harry Leuckert, to whom she was married for 40 years until her death from breast cancer in 1995 at the age of 66.

Today, her name and the power of her hallmark have so entered the British psyche that she has even been included in the text of Charlotte Jones’s award winning play, Humble Boy. Both Diana Rigg and Felicity Kendall wore navy blue wool crepe outfits in a scene where a leading character proudly announces she’s wearing her “Jean Muir”.

NO NAME IN FASHION, though, is so imprinted on the fashion consciousness as that of Gucci, with its wealth of symbols the green red green webbing, the gold horsebits, the bamboo and the famous GG initials, so redolent of luxury and craftsmanship.

Who has worn Gucci and why, asks Sarah Mower in Gucci by Gucci, a lavishly illustrated, drop dead gorgeous coffee table book for which you’ll require a steel reinforced table published to coincide with the 85th anniversary of the fashion house, founded in 1921 as a leather goods company in Florence by one Guccio Gucci. Well, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Grace Kelly in the 1950s; Ursula Andress and Audrey Hepburn in the 1960s; Jackie Onassis and Liza Minelli in the 1970s; and all of present day Hollywood, that’s who.

The essence of Gucci’s magnetism can be traced through wave after wave of international stars right back to the pre dawn era of La Dolce Vita, writes Mower, who has pored over a unique archive containing movie stills, magazines, books, catalogues and press cuttings. In recent years the label has enjoyed a renaissance. Between 1992 and 2004, the Texan Tom Ford transformed Gucci from sleepy status symbol to celebrity must have, “a globally understood synonym for S E X and celebrity. part of the continuous story of how Gucci has expressed its times leaving its GG loafered footprint on multiple layers of social history,” writes Mower.

The Gucci loafer is still the shoe of choice for Milan’s “rising super grannies” for reasons of domestic economy, writes Italian journalist Paolo Jacobbi, in her delicious little book, I Want Those Shoes, about the agony and the ecstasy of footwear, wittily illustrated by Edinburgh College of Art trained Emma Farrarons.

Loafers are only one of the styles Jacobbi examines, since she looks at the history of shoes as well as exploring our unbridled lust for the latest Jimmy Choos or Manolo Blahniks.

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