Charles James (designer)

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Charles James (18 July 1906 in Sandhurst, Berkshire - September 23, 1978 in New York City) was a fashion designer known as America's first couturier. He is considered a master of cutting and is known for his highly structured aesthetic.

Early life[edit]

His father was a British army officer and his mother a Chicago "patrician".[1] In 1919, he attended Harrow School, where he met Evelyn Waugh, Francis Rose, and, most importantly, Cecil Beaton, with whom he formed a longstanding friendship. He was expelled from Harrow for a "sexual escapade".[2]

At the age of nineteen in 1926, Charles James opens his first hat shop in Chicago, using the name of a schoolfriend, "Charles Boucheron".

In 1928, he left Chicago for Long Island with 70 cents, a Pierce Arrow, and a number of hats as his only possessions. He later opened a hat shop above a garage in Murray Hill, Queens, New York, beginning his first dress designs.[3]

Career[edit]

From New York James moved to London, setting up shop in Mayfair. He also spent spent time in Paris in the early 1930s, studying, but was primarily a self-taught designer.[2]

James showed one of his most successful collections in Paris in 1947. In the 1950s, he spent most of his time in New York.

According to Harold Koda, The Costume Institute curator in charge, James "transformed fashion design" and his "many advancements included the spiral cut and the taxi dress (created in 1929 and so easy to wear it could be slipped on in the backseat of a taxi)."[4] James also "championed strapless in the Thirties; invented the figure-eight skirt, the puffer jacket and the Pavlovian waistband that expands after a meal, and was an early proponent of licensing."[4] Christian Dior is "said to have credited James with inspiring The New Look."[4]

James looked upon his dresses as works of art, as did many of his customers. Year after year, he reworked original designs, ignoring the sacrosanct schedule of seasons. The components of the precisely constructed designs were interchangeable so that James had a never-ending fund of ideas on which to draw. He is most famous for his sculpted ball gowns made of lavish fabrics and to exacting tailoring standards[2], but is also remembered for his capes and coats, often trimmed with fur and embroidery, his spiral zipped dresses, and his white satin quilted jackets.

In 1954 James married Nancy Lee Gregory, a well-off girl from Kansas 20 years younger than himself; the two were married for 10 years and had a son and daughter.[2] After the birth of his son, Charles James Jr. in 1956, he also produced a children's collection.

He designed the interior and several pieces of furniture for the Houston home of John and Dominique de Menil.

After returning to New York City from Paris, Scaasi worked for James for two years.[5] James retired in 1958. Homer Layne, a graduate student at that time, was "James’ assistant for several years until his death in 1978."[4]

He died alone, of bronchial pneumonia, at the Chelsea Hotel, in New York City, which had three sixth-floor rooms for James' work space, office, and apartment.[4]

In May 2014, James will be the subject of an exbition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute called Charles James: Beyond Fashion.[4] At a preview of the exhibit, Elettra Wiedemann modeled a replica of the Clover Leaf ballgown James originally created for Austine Hearst.[4] It was the dress James ranked as the best of his creations.[2] At the preview event, the Costume Institute "detailed the designer’s significance today and showed a 1969 video of a James-led retrospective fashion show." [4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Thurman, Judith (10 May 2010). "Closet Encounters". The New Yorker. p. 3. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Roux, Caroline (14 April 2014). "Master of the robes: Charles James exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 20 April 2014. 
  3. ^ "Charles James" Voguepedia
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Feitelberg, Rosemary (11 February 2014). "The Costume Institute Previews 'Charles James: Beyond Fashion'". WWD. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  5. ^ Anne Bissonnette, Curator for The Kent State University Museum Scaasi An American Icon retrieved June 29, 2006

External links[edit]

Charles James at Chicago History Museum Costume Collection