The Jean Muir collection: the archive that keeps on giving

Last October I started as Volunteer Curatorial Assistant with the Art and Design Department here at National Museums Scotland.  My role is to support the Fashion and Textiles Curatorial Team on projects to enhance the museums’ collections.

As my first project, I was assigned the task of taking an inventory of all the registered garments within the Jean Muir archive. Projects like this are extremely time consuming for curators so it’s a perfect opportunity to enlist the help of volunteers, like myself. This in turn gives me experience in object handling and working with museum collections for my own professional development.

Donated to the National Museums in 2005, as instructed by Jean Muir herself, the archive consists of approximately 18,000 objects including garments, sketches, patterns and jewellery. Jean Muir plays a pivotal role within the history of British fashion and therefore it’s important that her extensive archive is made accessible to the public and to a new generation of fashion designers and academics.

Slowly but surely, Assistant Curator Lisa Mason and I started working through the registered garments in order to make an inventory. Throughout this process we were able to repack, move and hang objects so they were stored better and more easily accessible. Going through each box, we checked accession numbers, took record shots and double checked all the entries on ADLIB, the museum database system.

Taking inventory of registered garments along with accession numbers at the National Museums Collection Centre in Granton.

Taking inventory of registered garments along with accession numbers at the National Museums Collection Centre in Granton.
Taking inventory of registered garments along with accession numbers at the National Museums Collection Centre in Granton.

Personally, I have found working with this collection amazing! Jean Muir continually surprises and inspires me with her attention to detail. Affectionately nicknamed “The Archive that Keeps on Giving”, throughout the project Lisa and I came across some gems in jersey, lovelies in leather and wonders in wool!

Jean Muir in jersey, leather and wool.
Jean Muir in jersey, leather and wool.

Some of the most creative and interesting pieces came from the 1988 Australia Collection. This collection was commissioned by the International Wool Secretariat and the Australian Wool Corporation to celebrate Australia’s Bicentenary. Alongside international designers such as Gianni Versace, Oscar de le Renta and Sonia Rykiel, Jean Muir proved there was no limit to her imagination, talent and understanding of colour, shape and form.

Inspired by Australia’s Great Coral Reef, an ensemble from this collection is currently on display in the new Fashion and Style gallery, but you can also see a few pictures here of other pieces from the collection.

A selection of garments from the 1988 Australia Collection by Jean Muir.

A selection of garments from the 1988 Australia Collection by Jean Muir.

A selection of garments from the 1988 Australia Collection by Jean Muir.
A selection of garments from the 1988 Australia Collection by Jean Muir.

This process was cathartic as it gave us a sense of what had been accomplished and what was still to do. The registered garments from the collection are now housed within the costume store at the National Museums Collection Centre in Granton.  This section of the archive and its registered garments is now in an ordered fashion and is easy to navigate for access and enquiries.

The completed section of registered garments within the store at Granton.

The completed section of registered garments within the store at Granton.
The completed section of registered garments within the store at Granton.

It is now clear that our next priority is registering and repacking the remaining garments discovered during the inventory process. The next stage will take place later this year, however, please continue to read more about the Jean Muir archive here.

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