Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978)
Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Millicent Huttleston Rogers, 1949
Not on view
Charles James produced some of the most memorable garments ever made. He began his design career in the 1930s. It peaked between the late 1940s and mid- 1950s, when his scarce and highly original gowns were sought after by society's most prominent women. Personally draping and constructing the garments that bear his label, he is considered to be the only American to work in the true couture tradition. James saw himself as an artist and sculptor of dress rather than a dressmaker. He manipulated fabrics into dramatic shapes using complex seaming and sometimes complicated understructures to create his singular vision of timeless elegance. A master of the relationship between form, color and texture, he often heightened the drama of his evening wear by combining several like fabrics of different colors, or different fabrics in like colors but with different light reflective qualities. Also a perfectionist, he worked for years on refining certain seam lines, shapes and constructs that particularly expressed his vision of artistry through rigorous engineering. Many of his pieces are conceived asymmetrically and possess a sense of movement and vitality that is a signature characteristic of his work. Many historical references in shapes and construction, especially the drapery forms of the 1870s and early teens, are also prevalent throughout his work.
Comparisons with several other dresses wth similar drapery exemplifies James' constant experimentation with different techniques to create the same form. Here the drapery points are made through cutting, not draping. See 2009.300.3091a, b for points created by draping. See 2009.300.2743 for another example where drapery points are made through cutting. Front point drapery is a signature James form which creates a sculptural line unrelated to the body's form. Historically these points can be seen as references to the draped gowns of the 1910-1915 period, which themselves reference polonaise dresses of the late 18th century.