library finds – The Genius of Charles James

The Genius of Charles James is about the America’s most notorious couturier of the 20th century, cataloging his work, his life and career, and his ideas.

James is one of those rare, truly iconoclastic designers.  He was fascinated with cut and construction, experimenting with new shapes.  Above, this dress travels between the legs in the pattern of a “figure 8”.

Above is one of his clients from his early period in London – later Anne, Countess of Rosse, the very same who so carefully documented her own wardrobe in A Family of Fashion.  James had a very stormy career as an entrepreneur – despite the support of great patrons like Anne, he was unable to manage his finances and professional relationships, resulting in a string of failed businesses throughout his life.

What he was brilliant at was developing new forms in fabric, often his work is compared to that of a sculptor or an architect, which is apparent in garments like the one above with the distinctive, unusual, “arc” sleeve.

This book is full of delightful memories and candid recollections from those who knew him, including friends like photographer Bill Cunningham, who tells of James’ working relationship with the famous fashion illustrator Antonio towards the end of his life, when James lived in relative obscurity in the famous Chelsea hotel.

The collection of images and stories is a fascinating way to learn more about a designer who was ahead of his time, greatly concerned with posterity but unable to achieve it because of his personality.  His story, more than anything, reveals that personality may be the x-factor of success, what separates the icons from the also-rans among the talented and driven.

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3 thoughts on “library finds – The Genius of Charles James”

  1. A little late to this, but anyway …

    People these days always say that people they like from the past were ahead of their time, but that’s rarely the case, certainly not with Charles James. He was technically accomplished and his work was great, but it was very much in line with the heavily constructed styles of the 1940s through early 60s. In fact, he, like Balenciaga, detested the rise of pret-a-porter at the end of the 60s, and, like Balenciaga, the more casual climate of that era would really bring about his end. A renewed focus on 1940s/50s styles in the 80s saw his influence return a bit, but he was long gone by then as an innovator.

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