Masterclass in Muir's timelessness

Deedee Cuddihy

It takes something pretty serious to get secondary school pupils out of their classrooms for half a day and, despite what some people may think about fashion, the Jean Muir workshops being held at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh are anything but frivolous.

The design workshops for senior pupils are tied into the Jean Muir exhibition running at the museum in Chambers Street until March next year.

Muir, who died in 1995 after spending more than 40 years in the fashion industry, came to prominence in London during the 1960s and, having established a reputation for producing women's clothing with a timeless elegance, her business continued to thrive. In fact, the Jean Muir brand which was favoured by celebrities such as Joanna Lumley and Judy Dench, remained in existence until 2007.

The designer was very proud of what she called her "Celtic" roots (her grandfather was Scottish) and the exhibition is based on some of the 18,000 items - including clothes made from Scottish cashmere and tweed - from the Jean Muir archive, which was gifted to the National Museums.

A week of workshops for senior art and design pupils was held last month and there will be a further week at the end of January, all of which are fully subscribed.

The "carrot" held out to secondary schools was not just an in-depth tour of the show with a member of the exhibition team, but an hour-long session with Scottish fashion designer Iona Crawford. Having been inspired by the collection and gained an understanding of design briefs and presentation, as well as an insight into the skills and qualities needed in the creative industries, pupils would go on to develop ideas for their own "timeless" fashion and design collections back at school.

Later next year, all the pupils who took part in the workshops will come together to share their design work and have it evaluated, the best of it going forward to an exhibition about the project.

Meanwhile, back at the National Museum, nine pupils from Currie Community High in Edinburgh, with their art teacher Pamela Richardson, are in a mini lecture theatre where Iona is giving them inside information on what it's like to be a designer.

Iona, who graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2007, has only recently returned from a Scottish fashion event in Tokyo, where clothes produced by Scottish designers using Scottish materials were shown to Japanese buyers and journalists.

She talks the pupils through a film of the Tokyo fashion show, which includes a dress she made using a combination of fine tweed woven on Mull and soft Scottish leather, laser cut by her into a lacy pattern inspired by seaweed. The Japanese were so impressed by a masterclass she held during the event, they invited her to return to Tokyo for Japan Fashion Week in January.

Although Iona, like Muir, designs women's fashion that has a "timeless" look, she often draws inspiration from clothes seen in old photographs of Scottish men engaged in outdoor work, such as fishing and sheep shearing.

But she points out: "My inspiration for a new design might be Newhaven fishermen, but the result won't look like a fisherman's coat. Generally speaking, your starting point for a design will bear no obvious relation to the final outcome and that's something that can be difficult to come to terms with at first."

As well as their involvement in the Jean Muir project, the Currie pupils are working towards their art and design exams and a fashion show at the school next spring, which will feature not just clothes but jewellery, hats and other accessories.

Iona advised them to check out the work of contemporary designers on show at the National Museum, the Lighthouse in Glasgow and design and craft fairs.

Tel: 0131 247 4046.

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Deedee Cuddihy

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