Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978)
Silk: smoke gray chiffon; pale gray satin; aubergine, lavender, and oyster; synthetic: white nylon
Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. John de Menil, 1957 (2009.300.816)
Victorian, surreal, seductive, modern, this tightly fitted sheath with an exuberant explosion of multicolored tulle invites multiple interpretations. The form alludes to the extreme bustle of the 1880s, which swayed seductively with the wearer's movements. At the same time, it is, as the name implies, a butterfly form that has morphed the female body into that of an insect with iridescent wings, which shimmer with movement. The curvaceous satin side flanges serve both to heighten the eroticism of feminine curves and to underscore the wing motif. References to the past aside, it was a form hitherto unknown in the history of fashion, giving it modernist status. The dress weighs eighteen pounds; twenty-five yards of tulle were used in its making.