March 8, 2010
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.