Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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Evening dress

Designer:
Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978)
Date:
ca. 1944
Culture:
American
Medium:
silk, metal
Credit Line:
Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Carson, Pirie and Scott Co., 1949
Accession Number:
2009.300.3486
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 Many historical references in shapes and construction, especially the drapery forms of the 1870s and early teens, are also prevalent throughout his work.

While the skirt front and bodice with its cowl-like sleeve, and bare strap back are classic '30s forms, historical reference is apparent in the draping of the skirt and pleated ruffle flounce, allusions to Victorian and Belle Epoque shapes and construction details. The hiplineis fully padded, including front, with 5 pads. The pouf at back is a full horsehair understructure. Two other examples of this dress in the collection vary in the amount and type of understructure.
Marking: Handwritten label: "Charles James"
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