Friday, 25 April 2014

Ever heard of Charles James? Wonderful 1950s dresses at the Met, New York.

Dear Reader

Charles James was one of the most influential dress designers of the 1940s and 1950s. Yet, surprisingly, he is little known in the UK. 
Charles James gowns. Photograph by Cecil Beaton
Even though he was British, he is often called 'the first American couturier' as he spent most of his career in the USA.
Charles James 1952, Photograph by Michael A Vaccaro
James was hugely admired by other prominent designers of the 40s and 50s. Christian Dior described James' work as "poetry" and credited him with being the true originator of the 'New Look' of 1947, as it was inspired by a conversation with James.
Charles James suit, Photograph by Erwin Blumenfeld, Vogue July 1951
James created fabulous and innovative designs for many famous figures. From royalty to burlesque performers, his client list is quite a fascinating read in itself. Iconic actress Marlene Dietrich, jewellery designer Elsa Peretti, burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee, famous socialite Babe Paley, and designers Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel all wore his fabulous dresses.
British actress Joan Fontaine in Charles James, Photograph by Horst P Horst, 1937
New York socialite Babe Paley in Charles James Ballgown 1950
He was a lifelong friend of fashion photographer Cecil Beaton, whose famous photo (at the top of this post) of society beauties in James' gowns sums up for me all the glamour of the 40s and 50s. 
Early James designs. Photograph by Cecil Beaton, Vogue 1936
James photographed by Cecil Beaton, 1936
Charles James with model, Photograph by Cecil Beaton
James was notoriously difficult to work with and hugely egotistical, and called himself an artist and "the greatest couturier of the western world"! He sniffed at Beaton as a mere social-climbing artisan. Beaton retaliated by saying James was a "little monster". But the two remained firm friends and often worked together to produce some of fashions most iconic images!
Charles James 'Butterfly' Gown, Photograph by Cecil Beaton
James Gown, Photograph by Cecil Beaton, Vogue 1946
Charles James 'Swan' Gown, 1955, Photograph by Cecil Beaton
...And the same 'Swan' gown photographed by Horst P Horst, Vogue 1951
There is a wonderful exhibition of Charles James' work opening in May at the Met Museum in New York. How I would love to see those dresses close up! So let's end with a few more of his fabulous creations...
Photograph by Horst P Horst, Vogue 1940
Illustration and Photograph by Cecil Beaton, Vogue 1944
Charles James hat, inspired by Rolls Royce 'Spirit of Ecstasy', Vogue 1952
Thanks for dropping in - and hope you've enjoyed this whistle-stop tour! 
Heavenly Vintage Brides

All photographs courtesy of 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Vogue Archive