All of this talk about Jason Wu’s gowns for Michelle Obama has gotten me thinking about other American designers. And if we’re talking gowns, the American master of over the top evening gowns is Charles James. Hands down. Elaborate, complex and breathtakingly beautiful, his designs are famous for their structure and construction. The Chicago History Museum CT scanned some of his dresses just to understand them for their exhibit!
He was born in England in 1906 to an English father and Chicagoan mother. He moved to Chicago in the mid 1920s and opened a hat shop. That original hat design talent and millinery skills are evident in the structure and sculpture throughout his body of work. He passed away in 1978, but the Met has the most overwhelmingly beautiful collection of his work. And it’s online!!!
The “Four Leaf Clover” (above) has 30 pattern pieces and is four layers of fabric. That’s 120 pieces to cut out and sew!!! For some perspective, a classic Chanel jacket has 14 pattern pieces, excluding pockets, is 2 layers of fabric and takes 60 to 70 hours to sew. Just setting the sleeves takes 17 hours.
The Met has an incredible collection of his work online that you can peruse at your leisure. What’s so amazing about it is that a number of the pieces are shown in “concept to consumer” fashion. They have his sketches, his working muslins and the finished dresses. He was able to convince a number of his clients to donate their dresses to the Met, while he provided the background. Just amazing!