Have you seen (or are eagerly planning to see) the Charles James fashion retrospective at the Met? After perusing the red carpet looks from the Met Gala, and only seeing a handful of lavish gowns befitting the theme, we decided to curate our own Charles James-inspired vintage jewelry collection.
Charles James began his fashion career in the late 1920s as a milliner in Chicago, constructing hats directly on his customers’ heads. When he switched gears from hats to clothing in the late 1930s, he continued this approach. As written in Vogue, “much as a hatmaker uses a block, James viewed the female form as an armature on which to build his highly sculptural pieces.” Completely self taught, James developed his own unique techniques of garment design and construction.
Christian Dior once claimed that Charles James inspired the groundbreaking New Look collection in 1947, and together they brought glamour to post WWII America. By 1950, James had won the first of his two Coty Awards for American fashion and was at the height of his career. Museums saw the historical importance of his elaborate gowns and sought his designs for their collections. Inspired by Cecil Beaton’s iconic tableau of 1950s James dresses (seen above), we pulled together elegant, vintage jewelry from the mid 20th century for our Charles James curated collection.
To James and his high society clients, his gowns were works of art. He produced only a handful a year, and was notorious for endlessly tweaking his designs. He also reused components, such as a sleeve or the bodice, mixing and matching for different looks. Each dress had an intricate base of millinery wire and buckram to support the shape and volume. He considered his black and white Four Leaf Clover gown (above) the “thesis” of his method. Vogue explained that “to create the unique quatrefoil silhouette, James engineered a complex undercarriage of multiple petticoats, over which floated a skirt of cream duchesse-satin, its four structured “petals” emphasized by a wide undulating band of black velours de Lyon.” Catches the eye, right?
They’re so beautiful, we can’t resist sharing a few more of our favorite Charles James gowns. What’s your favorite?