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Charles James – L/enfant Terrible

Hello all you followers of fashion!  Today I would like to talk about the diabolical yet divine Charles James.  I refer to him as “L’enfant Terrible” and “diabolical” because James was notoriously difficult to work with; positively terrorized his staff and was erratic at best with his clients as well.  Apparently James would fire his staff at the drop of a hat and regularly brought them to tears with his cruelty.   With his “ladies” as he called his regular clients, he made no guarantee that the dresses they ordered (and paid a fortune for) would ever be ready or even delivered.
By now, I’m sure you are asking yourself; “Why, in Heaven’s name, would anyone stand for that type of behavior?”  To this I can only reply that, horrid or not, the man was a genius.

Don’t believe me?  Behold…

Is this not to die for?! Part of James’ genius was his ability to both deconstruct and construct at the same time.  In other words, he was able to take familiar forms or motifs and break them down in order to then create something completely different from everyone else.

Here is another example…

The dress, above, is commonly called the “Clover Gown” because the swooping lobes at the hem were influenced by the lobe-like leaves of a clover.  As you can see, James takes the familiar, in this case a clover, and remakes it into something entirely new.

James was also influenced by historical fashion as we can clearly see in this gown.  The gown immediately below is Charles James, the one further down is  from the 1880’s. Observe that both have a draped overskirt, narrow, corseted bodice, and a type of pleating that is called “kilting” at the hem of the underskirt.


Here is another example.  once again the James gown is directly below and the historic robe a la francaise from the 16th Century is below that. While these are certainly not carbon-copies, there is an influence in the overall silhouette and design inspiration, no?


That said, James also took complete fights of fancy and created gowns that had no precedent, such as these.

These gowns always bring some type of exotic bird to mind for me.

So there you have it, my dears.  Lest you should want to learn more and perhaps also drool over James gowns in person, the Chicago History Museum is presenting Charles James: Genius Deconstructed through April 16th, 2012.  Hmm, perhaps a road trip is in order…


One response to “Charles James – L/enfant Terrible

  1. Pingback: de groene baljurk (van Charles James) en overdag’s op Scheveningen | Clemens Buur

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