As anyone who saw The Devil Wears Prada knows, September marks the start of the fashion calendar year. The September issue of Vogue (and Elle, Marie Claire, Glamour, etc.) is traditionally the grandest of the year, chock full of the latest in haute couture. In honor of this month of couture, GMD takes a look at some garments by accomplished self-taught American designer Charles James. From expertly-sculpted coat sleeves to a cocktail dress that nearly stands up on its own, James looked upon his garments as works of art.
Here's a glance at two Charles James garments in the GMD collection.
The wonderfully detailed little black coat featured above has an elaborate stand-up collar, elegantly folded to create a peek-a-boo diamond cut-out. The coat's swing shape maximizes the fabric's thick body and sheen, making dramatic light catching waves. The sleeves, cut from a single piece of fabric, are expertly sculpted with minimal darting. Initially designed for pioneering Harper Bazaar editor Carmel Snow, the coat was originally made from a brightly colored wool plaid blanket. This formal version, in sleek black satin, provided far less warmth than looks. A bright yellow lining provides an unexpected burst of color.
James broke the rules of the traditional couturier - he often ignored the schedule of seasons and worked out of the US - and was therefore not eligible to be named an official haute couturier by the Chambre de commerce et d'industrie de Paris.
But he didn't need a French title to develop his innovative couture garment construction techniques and enjoy popularity as a fashion designer. James died in 1978 but has recently been the subject of a much loved exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and as a result, his bespoke designs are in the midst of a popularity surge.
On the surface, this dress seems rather straightforward - a typical 1950s cocktail dress meant to show off a woman's hourglass figure. In fact, this dress is so elaborately constructed, it nearly stands up on its own! James' inclination for complex construction is reflected in the darting and design lines; curved darts are difficult to execute, especially with a fabric as unforgiving as taffeta. And on the bodice construction, the same pattern piece transitions from back to sleeve without a seam line; an expensive and unheard of convention in manufactured garments.