- Charles James (1906-1978) : Charles James refers to a fashion designers who was born in Sandhurst, England in 1906. Charles James began designing in the 1920's and in 1926, he opened a hat shop named "Charles Boucheron
". He also briefly attended the University of Bordeaux in France when his family sent him to Chicago to work for a utilities magnate in architectural design, from which he resigned almost immediately since he was not interested in that line of work. In 1928, he moved to New York and took up dress designing. In 1929, he began commuting between London and New York.
From 1934 to 1935, James worked in Paris designing fabrics for French textile manufacturer Colcombet under the patronage of Paul Poiret.
Throughout the 1940's and 1950's, he spent most of his time in New York, designing clothes for Elizabeth Arden's salon. New York became James base from 1940 to 1947. He showed one of his most successful collections in Paris in 1947.
James was most famous for his sculpted ball gowns in lavish fabrics and exact tailoring. Also popular were his spiral zipped dresses, capes and coats often trimmed with fur and embroidery, and white satin quilted jackets. Charles James who worked in New York, London, and Paris, is remembered for his timeless, sculpted fashion designs that were as much architectural wonders as garments. James' dresses are of elegant fabrics molded on an armature of underpinnings, including horsehair canvas, horsehair braid, nonwoven interfacing, and boning. These intricate layers pad and stiffen James dresses until they almost assume a life of their own. His designs are so timeless that his 1932 culottes for the New York department store "Lord and Taylor", were still being sold in the 50's.
Charles James was in his sculptural heyday during the 1950's. One of his most famous clients was Mrs. Austine Hearst, wife of William Randolph Hearst, Jr. Mrs. Hearst was Charles James' favorite model and he made several gowns for her. The most famous one was the "Four-Leaf Clover" gown which was considered by James to represent the culmination of his career. The gown was worn by Mrs. Hearst to the Eisenhower Inaugural Ball in 1953. James considered this long, strapless white dress, ornamented by a wide band of black velvet around the skirt, to be his masterpiece. The "Four-Leaf Clover" name comes from the shape of the skirt that, when the circumference of the hemline is diagrammed, resembles a four-leaf clover without a stem. It keeps its shape through three (3) distinct layers of boning, stiffening, and underlining. It is suspended from the fitted waist, the skirt sways and undulates in a most graceful manner as the wearer moves. Mrs. Hearst also wore this dramatic gown to the Coronation Ball of Queen Elizabeth II and a similar function at the Palace of Versailles.
James famous clients also include Millicent Rogers, Coco Chanel and Diana Vreeland.
James looked upon his dresses as works of art, as did many of his customers. Year after year, he reworked his original designs, ignoring the seasons. The components of the precisely constructed designs were interchangeable so that James had a never-ending fund of ideas from which to draw. He is most famous for his sculpted ball gowns made in lavish fabrics and to exacting tailoring standards, but is also remembered for his capes and coats, often trimmed with fur and embroidery, his spiral zipped dresses and his white satin quilted jackets. Charles James also used draped fabric in his creations, but he relied on millinery techniques to create an armature or structure over which the fabric lies.
James was very temperamental and continually sabotaged his own success, but the lush structural beauty of his clothes have ensured he will be remembered as one of the greatest designers.
James also produced a children's collection, after the birth of his son. Likewise, he designed the interior and several pieces of furniture for the Houston home of John and Dominque de Menil.
Charles James retired in 1958 and died in 1978.
In the year 2001, the city of New York decided to honour American fashion designers, and one of those honored was Charles James. Bronze plaques in honor of said American fashion designers were placed along 7th Avenue, the great street of fashion in New York which has been called the "Fashion Walk of Fame."