Architect of Attire – The Genius of Charles James

There’s a handful of names which roll off the tongue when talking about fashion designers of the twentieth century. Dior, Chanel, Quant, Balenciaga, to name a few. But there’s one other name which deserves to be spoken of in the same league, and that is the oh-so-innovative Mr Charles James.

Born in the UK in 1906 to an English Father and American Mother, James moved to Chicago as a young man and worked in the offices of a family friend. After putting on a fashion show for fun (which consisted of Batik beach wraps) the family friend saw talent in James and moved him to the Architecture department. There he learnt the mathematics and structural skills which he would later utilise in his dress designs. James went on to work in fashion from the 1920’s onwards. He soon became the first Parisian style Couturier the US had seen, having such influence on fashion design that his contemporary, Dior, remarked that James was ‘the greatest talent of my generation’. That’s quite some claim when you consider that in his 45 year career, James only produced around 100 garments. But such was the magnificence of his designs, he earned every bit of recognition, and continues to inspire designers to this day, including my favourite; Zac Posen. Charles James deserves to be up there with the most well known names of the century.

In particular, James was known for ballgowns – and mY GoSH, do I loooove vintage ballgowns – winning high society clients in both the US and Europe. If you wanted to be seen in a ground breakingly beautiful gown, James was the man you needed to have on speed dial. Or rather the old fashioned equivalent. Either way, if James made you a dress, you would WOW. Fact.

During his career, James proved to be a pioneer of design, adopting an innovative approach to the structure of each garment. His dresses weren’t simply made, they were engineered and sculpted with complex corsetry and draping. He developed a signature ‘Wall of Air’ in his dresses to hold the fabric away from the body, allowing these heavy works of art to sit comfortably on the wearer. He loved a bustle (don’t we all?) and gave numerous nods to the Victorian silhouette. He wasn’t only a leader in the sense of shape, he was also the first designer of his time to use zippers, snaps, synthetic fabrics, and unusual pairings of colours. Without James, I reckon we could be looking at quite a different history of fashion.

James is best known for a few of his signature dresses, all of which paved the paths of future designers.

Clover Leaf Dress, 1953

The Clover Leaf dress is astounding, and quite possibly his most praised. Made in satin, it was constructed from four sections (torso, upper skirt, middle section of the skirt, and the hem) and the base has four corners resembling a clover leaf. James’ designs were often derived from the beauty of nature, and he always interpreted it in such a modern and original way. He first designed the Clover for Austine Hearst to wear to the 1953 Eisenhower Inaugural Ball. This 10lb gown sat balanced on the hips and made a sweeping statement. Deemed too bulky for that occasion, Hearst ended up wearing it to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II instead. A worthy wear, in my opinion. James made six black and white clover dresses during his career.

Butterfly Dress, 1955

Another dress inspired by nature, James’ Butterfly dress is a sensation. Once you know that it’s designed in reference to a Butterly form, you can see it. The slim column body with the layered transparent tulle as wings. Incredibly elegant, James formed a higher torso and bust line than usual to accentuate its length and proportions. This earthy tone was so novel for evening wear, but brown was soon secured as a perfect palette for future fashions.

Taxi Dress, 1932

Many credit Diane von Furstenberg for creating the infamous ‘wrap dress’ in the 70’s. But way before she was even born, James had already created the style. He actually first developed it in 1929 and went back to fully realise the design in 1932 when it got stocked in small amounts in department store, Best & Co. It was a highly wearable piece and was made with modern women in mind; the idea being that it was easy to take on and off in the back of a taxi! Formed from one piece of seamless fabric, it had a spiral zipper and three clasp hooks to anchor it at the hip. Just. Genius. And, way to go for making life easier for the gals!

Charles James is high up there in my top 5 favourite designers of his era. The drama of the designs, the show stopping extravagance, twinned with an original flattery of the female form, means that his work thrills my eyes. And when you add to all that the fascinating construction behind each idea, well, it’s just dreamy for any vintage lover.

Stunning, and with a story. Perfect.

Thanks for reading, if you have learned something and enjoy my writing, you can always show your appreciation by buying me a virtual cuppa! xx

Fashion in a Frenzy

Collaborative collections between high street stores and high end fashion Designers are big business, giving consumers a chance to own designer styles at a fraction of the price. But with collections selling out in seconds and items reselling online for often triple the original price, who are the real winners in what seems like a sartorial game of sport?

The Vampire’s Wife, H&M, 2020

Global fashion chain H&M first kicked off its now legendary annual tie ups with big shot fashion designers back in 2004. The debut was a collection with the late Karl Lagerfeld. These partnerships result in big bucks and enormous exposure for the brands. It was game on from that point, having a hot hook up every year since with names including Comme Des Garcons, Lanvin, and Isabel Marant. Other high street stores were fast to join the game. Gap got Valentino into their gang, Uniqlo teamed up with J W Anderson, and Topshop joined forces with Mary Kantrantzou, Christopher Kane, and their most powerful pairing; Kate Moss. The structure of these sell out collections is a winning formula. Whispers gather speed, sneak peeks appear, and excitement swells alongside massive marketing. A slow paced anticipation, is followed by a sprint to the launch date. Alarms set, queues form outside the stores, fingers hover over keyboards, like waiting for a starting gun to release the race. Shoppers hoping to get their own piece of the collection which -at least for that week- everyone is talking about. This huge hype creates hysteria at the high street stores. They no doubt know that every item will be a sLaM DuNk seller.

Kate Moss, Topshop, 2010

The collaborative collections all tend to be small, with star player pieces which by the time they go on sale, I’m a little sick of the sight of. The ad campaigns relentlessly run on TV, billboards and magazines. On launch day social media is flooded with successful shoppers flaunting their wares, like winners of a competition. Show offs. Do they really love that Giambatista Valli H&M dress we’ve seen five thousaaaand times on Kendall Jenner in the campaign? Or are they more chuffed with the fact that they managed to actually get one? Like a gold medal for the most dedicated fashion fan.

Lanvin, H&M, 2010

I really do love some of the collections. The multiple ones Moss has done with Topshop all have some pieces which make my heart skip a beat. The latest H&M collaboration with -lust worthy dress maker of the moment- The Vampire’s Wife, has some absolute darling dresses, and a stand out cape like many of Moss’ collections. But I can’t help feeling that the beauty of them, and that of wearing them, is a little overshadowed by just how damn overexposed they all are in the media. If I see someone wearing an item from one of these collections, rather than admire their style and think they look lovely, I’m more likely to think that they heeded the hype and fought to get their fashion fix. Or that they paid a fiercely inflated price to buy it from a reseller. The power of promotion.

Karl Lagerfeld, H&M, 2004

As with much new fashion, inspiration is drawn from original vintage looks. The pieces I adore most from both Moss and The Vampire’s Wife’s collections have strong similarities to items I have sold over and over in their original form through my vintage shop. Does the limited edition nature of these high street collaborations make the dresses collectible? Possibly, in many years to come, they are very identifiable and made in restricted amounts. I will always value an original vintage dress more though. These high street collections are still after all, mass produced to some degree, not one of a kind. The resale market for these collections is a secondary business in itself. Within hours of the items being on sale in the stores, online selling sites such as eBay and Depop are full of them, often at triple the high street price tag. The demand is so high that the value increases the moment it leaves the shop. But how long does it hold its value? Once the frenzy fades, are people still willing to pay so much? Prices get hiked so high that the Valli H&M dresses were reselling online for more than a dress from Valli’s own ready to wear label! Wowzie.

Valentino, Gap, 2010

Are pieces from these collaborations iconic, or just over popularised? The more we see something, and get told that everyone wants it, the more we feel an urgency to get it, and fast. People buy any size they can grab, regardless of whether it fits, just to be involved. This feels like fast fashion played out in a literal sense. Create a craving, build up to the release, keep it limited, and it’s guaranteed to be a very fast money maker. It’s a game, but who is the player here? These collaborations are a whole heap of fun and create some really beautiful fashion. But if they made more runs of each item so they weren’t limited stock, would we all still so eagerly hand over our money just to score a goal?

Adoring Azzedine Alaia at the Design Museum

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Wrapped forms, sensual silhouettes, and sculptural structure were all right in front of my very eyes at the beautiful Azzedine Alaia The Couturier exhibition at London’s Design Museum. Layers of volume clashed cohesively next to dresses so tight they become a second skin, and my goodness, was each piece a wonderful work of art. I have long adored the designs of this Tunisian born couturier and made a promise to myself to hot-foot in to the big smoke to see this very special exhibition, one which Alaia helped curate just before his death last year. With work spanning from the 1970’s through to his final 2017 show, here was a lifetimes staging of his skills. The exhibition was a somewhat sombre but stunning display. A large low lit space, silent and calm, with minimal information so we could focus purely on the fashion. Sometimes when I go to exhibitions there is so much to read, so much mixed media, so many things battling for my eyeballs attention that I can feel panicky and overwhelmed as though I’ll never absorb it all in enough time. Here it was simple, and simply perfect. What better legacy for this talent to leave us with than his sheer brilliance of design.

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Azzedine Alaia The Couturier is on at The Design Museum until October 7th 2018

The Ultimate Guide to a Self Care Day

I don’t think I’m alone in often feeling overwhelmed by the online world, in feeling harassed by hashtags and fed up with feeling an urgent need to reply to messages. I like the internet, I like being busy and I love messages from my family and friends, but sometimes – well, quite often – I just need to hit the OFF button and hide. I don’t know if it’s an introvert thing, or if it’s because I struggle with anxiety, but I’m guessing it’s a human thing, and that modern life is a big fat overload for all of us at times.

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Self Care Days, or Mental Health Days, are something I now take regularly and feel no need to justify to myself or anyone else. I’ve finally learnt that my head health, nervous system and energy reserves are more important than almost anything else I have control over, and ya know what, I cherish these days. Want one too? Here’s my guide to a day off from modern life….

  1. Stay off Social Media – this one is a biggie as social media can be your biggest enemy when you’ve got the fed-ups, stay away from these feeds that forever fuel your insecurities of not being busy enough, exciting enough, pretty enough, popular enough, it’s all smoke and mirrors and its not a competition you have to win, or even participate in every damn day.
  2. Cook Good Food – food is your fuel, I learnt that during my long recovery from an eating disorder and I sometimes forget just how important it is to properly nourish myself, take time to lovingly prepare a wholesome meal for your body, it’s an essential act of self love.
  3. Rest – sit and stay put, don’t feel guilty about what you’re not getting done, it can wait, learn to sit with yourself and allow calmness for a while.
  4. Bathe – I love a bath, I take them often, but I kinda think I enjoy the ritual, the running of it, the idea of it, and then once it’s run, I’m in and out in 5 minutes so I can get on and google that thing or check that message, but on days like these, you need to bathe, and I mean B A T H E, like really do it, immerse entirely.
  5. Ignore – if you really need to, tell that finger tappin’ friend (that one who’s a bit overly keen on message tennis and gives you a ‘Hellooooo????’ if you don’t reply within 5 minutes) beforehand that you’re gonna be out of action for the day, but take this one day to let emails wait and messages go unanswered, feeling the need to be phone-in-hand-available 24 hours a day is bloody exhausting. Nope, not today.
  6. Get Out in Nature – on many of my self care days I don’t leave the house, but I do sometimes go into my small garden and look at the bugs and sky, getting out into nature is a perfect remedy for overwhelm, nothing calms the system like listening to trees in the breeze or watching a lil’ bug begin its day, Mother Nature is always there for you when the rest of the world is gettin’ on your nerves.
  7. Spend Time With Your Pets – nothing, genuinely nothing, soothes me more than cuddling up to my cat and shoving my face into his warm furry belly, the world disappears in that moment and I swear, his soft tummy fluff smells like a freshly cooked cupcake. Animals are ace and if you don’t have a pet, ask a friend to drop their dog off for a bit, animals will take you out of any bad head-space as you watch them do nothing but live in the present. And, did I mention the F L U F F I N E S S?!
  8. Read – get lost in a book, turn all other things off, and really read.
  9. Breathe – our breath is our speedometer and when we’re busy we so often breathe fast and shallow and everything we do is on high; high anxiety, high speed, high stress, and our system acts accordingly putting us in a constant ‘fight or flight’ state, concentrate on slow deep breaths and see what it does. Alternate nostril breathing is part of my yoga practice and it’s something I return to over and over because every time, I’m stunned by how much it soothes me. *that’s not an ad in any way, I just genuinely recommend it.
  10. Sleep – I sleep a lot, and when I’m taking lots of naps I know it’s a sign that I’m feeling engulfed so I pay attention and deal with it by taking a self care day, but, self care days themselves are a great time to nap, a short snooze in a duvet cocoon whilst the rest of the world works can be a sumptuous slice of seclusion for just you, and make sure you go to bed early on these days too, to let your body become properly rested.

So my prescription for when you feel flattened by the weight of it all, is to take this list, once monthly, with a large glass of water, and repeat as often as needed to prevent burn-out. What’s your self care plan, and how do you know when it’s due?

 

 

Your Body is Always Beach Ready

There’s always talk at this sunny time of year concerning getting beach ready and obtaining that ‘perfect’ beach body. But the concept of ‘perfect’ is finally changing. It has traditionally only involved women looking slim, toned, tanned, and perfectly proportioned, but is that really the dream for us all? Sure, there is nothing wrong with being slim and toned, but some of us have curves, and some of us have different shapes, *big bum and teeny boobs anyone? Yup* and in truth we should embrace the body we have, however it looks. So if you find yourself feeling a little angsty or pressured about the whole beach body thang, you don’t need to change a thing or cover anything up, your body is yours and it looks damn fine just as it is.

What you think is what you feel – What you think about in your thoughts becomes what you believe and ultimately it undoubtedly has an impact on your behaviour and how you feel? Trust me, I spent years being way too self conscious and hating on myself, negative feelings about ourselves can be very loud, to the point where you only see what you perceive to be flaws, and that is a waste of precious time. If you turn this around and build a positive outlook on yourself then you’ll start to notice the amazing things about you, and that makes a huge impact on how you feel; partly because you start to see yourself in a more loving way and partly because you start giving less of a fuff about what others think. People are mostly too pre-occupied with their own stuff to be judging you anyway, so please don’t go judging yourself!

What lies beneath can dramatically change your look – Yes, a focus on what you wear can really help to boost your confidence and make you feel great about your look, but, could you be doing more to enhance the clothes that you wear? The undies you choose to wear each day can change the way a top or dress fits and it all ties in with your confidence. Brands like ultimo can make a big difference to your body shape with bras that fit and underwear that enhances your figure, whether you want vpl free knickers or ones to enhance ya peachy bum. 

Dressing to your body shape and skin tone – If you are happy in your own skin and don’t feel the pressure to conform to society *phew for you* then you may want to focus on dressing for the body shape you have. Sometimes we might love a particular top or dress but, if the cut won’t suit our body shape then it can do the opposite of making us feel good; something which clings on the hips is a nope for me! A quick look online will help identify your body shape and the type of clothing that’ll suit you, once you know what cuts are the best for your body, you have a timeless recipe for successful style! 

A bright lip can give you all the confidence – Sometimes, if you do just one thing then make sure you do something that can instantly boost your confidence. For some that can be a slick of a bold lip colour as you leave the door. It might be different for you, I like a pop of blush on my cheeks to make me look rosy, but find what gives you that boost and use it Sista!

Mostly, be brave and own your beach body, because, with a smacking of true confidence, you will look absolutely A W E S O M E.