I crave a great lesson in fashion history, which is why choosing Charles James for May’s Designer of The Month was a no-brainer. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is dedicating an exhibit to him, Charles James: Beyond Fashion, debuting Thursday May 8. Which, I’m sure has many of you wondering just who the heck this guy is. He doesn’t receive nearly as much attention as his counterparts, but still receives a generous amount of credit from his peers. We have him to thank for the infinity scarf and puffer coats, just a few of his innovative creations that singlehandedly shaped the fashion industry.
Say the name Charles James to a fashion historian and the word genius will be thrown into the conversation, and with good reason. Christian Dior once called him, “the greatest talent of my generation”, which goes without saying. A look at James’s creations and you will see the influence he has over modern-day designers ranging from Zac Posen to Jean Paul Gaultier. Charles James developed his detailed and structured aesthetic from architecture, using the effects and technical concepts to produce his designs. He was a master at mixing fabrics that wouldn’t normally complement each other, and found joy in playing with a variety of textures.
A stubborn perfectionist, James was far from a normal designer, opting not to sketch models, but rather studying the weight distribution of a garment. He compared the craft of dressmaking to engineering. He fixated on the proportions of the female body, and analyzed everything from the color, texture and proportion of each garment. Taking obsessive compulsive to a new level, Charles James spent large amounts of time on the detail of each creation, even spending 20 grand just to craft the perfect sleeve.
A visionary in every sense of the word, he was one of the first designers to use a zipper on one of his gowns. The Figure-Eight Skirt and Four-Leaf Clover gown are two of his most celebrated designs today. With having such an innovative approach it should come as no surprise that he ranked among the world’s most expensive couturier at that time, but the expensive prices never deterred his clients. He gained a huge following amongst the elite, dressing everyone from heiresses to socialites.
Charles James: Beyond Fashion, will finally give him the recognition he so rightly deserves. James’s creations are the true definition of timelessness, transforming ordinary into elegance. Viewers will finally have the chance to embrace the fashion genius that has inspired the likes of many of today’s designers. It’s an exhibit not to be missed.