Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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"Butterfly"

Designer:
Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978)
Date:
1955
Culture:
American
Medium:
silk, synthetic
Credit Line:
Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. John de Menil, 1957
Accession Number:
2009.300.816
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 Many historical references in shapes and construction, especially the drapery forms of the 1870s and early teens, are also prevalent throughout his work.

James' ultimate version of the tightly fitted bustle dresses of the early 1880s, this dress emphasizes the feminine form with its body-conscious sculpted sheath and enormous bustle skirt that would move seductively with the wearer's movement. The femininity is further emphasized by the satin side flanges that are not unlike a bird's wing bone attached to a burst of tulle feathers. The dress weighs 18 pounds. Twenty five yards of tulle were used in its making.
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