Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978)
Length at CB (a, b): 50 in. (127 cm)
Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. R. A. Bernatschke, 1955
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 early 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. A perfectionist, he worked for years on refining certain seam lines and shapes that particularly expressed his vision. Many of his pieces are conceived asymmetrically and possess a sense of movement and vitality that is a signature characteristic of his work. Historical references in shapes and construction, especially the drapery forms of the 1870s and early teens, also abound. Spiral wrapping around the armature of the body was a signature technique that James used to fashion his sculptural dress forms. The top panel of the multi-level skirt here is a circular cut which falls into flutes as it spirals around the hipline. The points of the collar, skirt and back further add to the dynamic quality.
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