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

Ya Gotta Love a Leiber Bag!


Last month, legendary maker of lovely bags, Judith Leiber, passed away at the grand age of 97. I absolutely adored her designs. She died in New York, at her home, just hours after her husband of 72 years also died; which is a strangely sweet situation. Budapest born Leiber began making bags after the second world war for the secretaries of the American Legation. and just over a decade after that she relocated to America and her company was born in 1963. Loved by the famous and the fashionable, Leiber’s quirky and covetable designs bring a big ole smile to ya face. ‘You have to have a sense of humour’ she once said, and her delightful delicacies – which include ice cream sundaes, over-sized bows and animals in outfits – proved that playfulness was paramount in her work. Over her career she made leather bags, shoulder bags, snakeskin bags and evening bags, with her iconic signature style being the miniature metal cocktail bags which were completely covered in rhinestones. These sparkling sturdy bags were developed by accident when Leiber once had a metal based bag which had a stain on it, so she covered the stain with crystals, and, ta-daaah, her biggest hit was born! These luxurious bags are all hiiighly collectible and are pretty darned pricey but, so, so delightful. Seen in the hands and on the arms of Bjork, Emily Blunt, Barbara Bush and our very own Queenie, its no wonder that examples of her designs are on display in museums around the world. A swan shaped encrusted bag was featured in an episode of Sex & The City – when Big gave it to Carrie in lieu of saying ‘I love you’ – and this pretty much cemented Leiber’s place in pop culture history. She leaves behind her a real legacy of loveliness.
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If you ever find yourself with the desire to spend some big bucks on a brilliant bag, you can see the selection here, or, browse vintage stores for her older designs, they will always be an ace investment.

I’ve Got A Blank Space, Baby (And It Needs Decorating)

The blank wall. Every home has one. You promised yourself you’d put something ace up when you first moved in, but it’s fallen down that to-do list over and over again, you’ve walked past that blank space of yours so many darn times you don’t even realize it’s there anymore. So, the obvious answer to all this is to create a photo-gallery wall. There’s nothing wrong with this obvs; it’s just a little bit, kinda cliche. It’s been done so many times that it hardly makes an impact anymore. I’ve pulled together a list of creative ways you can add a lil’ bit of color and creativity to this gaping canvas of yours. You’re welcome.

A Gaggle Of Baskets… Baskets come in all shapes and sizes, colors and patterns, yet they seemed to always get stuffed within each other and then left below the coat rack in the utility room. Well, hows about hanging a bunch of decorative baskets on your wall to make a statement. It could be that you collect baskets from each of your holidays from now on, or just start painting the ones you spy in thrift shops – so long as there is a mix of sizes, styles, shapes, and colors you will be smiley by the results.

Letter Of The Law… I adore any look that takes the worlds of rustic and contemporary and slams them together to create art, and that’s exactly what you’ll get from hanging giant metallic letters on your blank wall. Having a couple of letters is gonna make a cool creation no matter where you put them. It could be your initials, a combo of yours and your spouse’s, or your kid’s names; slightly overlapping a pair of letters is a neat idea too, ya know.

Embrace The Wall Brackets… Everyone seems to think you have to hang your art on the wall, with the bravest of this bunch a) hanging their art at different heights or b) not hanging it and choosing to lean it instead. Well, a great way to make your favorite bird art standout in a whole new way is to put up some decorative wall brackets and then stand your framed bits on these. It’ll just add another dimension. You could even paint the wall brackets with accent colors to make ’em pop even more. Or, I love to hang my vintage shoes, bags and dresses on the walls, either with antique coat hooks or creating a cool way to both store and display your wares! 

Use The Wall Itself… Your wall is blank and bare, but that doesn’t mean your only option is to hang something on it. Hells no. A great way to make a wall standout is to turn it into something special in its own right. You could do this by creating a taped-off graphic statement, painting a wall in a lovely base color, waiting for it to dry, applying tape across it at angles and then painting over it to create a lovely statement. Or you could add some subtle wood paneling if you fancied. Perhaps, just framing some wallpaper would be enough. The options are almost infinite. Happy home making, y’all!

How To Artfully Decorate Your Home

Photo: Jonathan Adler

Photo: Jonathan Adler

Nothing helps you make your mark on your home like decorating it to suit your own cool style. Well-placed art has the power to transform an otherwise pretty plain room into the focus point of the house, but this can be difficult if you’re an art novice. It might not seem difficult when you first think about it, yet when you’re faced with so many options and prices, you’ll find it almost impossible to settle on something, so much bloomin’ choice! These tips might help you narrow your options….

Buy what you love – Fine art is always subject to your individual taste, you should definitely buy pieces that you find thrilling to look at. Perhaps you don’t know what kind of art you like, so you’ll first need to find some inspiration from galleries, museums, or art stores. You should never have to justify your taste in art; if you get the same thrill from knowing you own Andy Warhol’s soup can paintings as others do from looking a Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, then it aint nobody’s business but yours. Warhol photographed shoes, people, postcards and hundreds of everyday mundane items; if the same images make you happy, then you’re in very good company. You can learn more about Andy Warhol’s artistic impressions at https://hamiltonselway.com/andy-warhols-10-most-famous-quotes. Art doesn’t have to conform to a social norm, so if it’s not to your taste, you don’t have to invest in landscape pieces, or anything that would qualify as ‘traditional’ art. The only opinion that matters here is yours. Take your time to look around and see what you’d be happy to have hanging in your living room.

The best art for the best room – If you feel strongly about a certain art piece, your first instinct might be to hang it up somewhere. However, before you start hammering, you need to see if the painting works with the decor of the room. Placing art in the wrong surroundings can kinda diminish its beauty and impact. This doesn’t mean that the painting has to match the room; in fact, deliberately contrasting the art with the decor can complement the whole space. You might even wanna consider putting a contemporary piece in a traditional room, or vice versa, to add visual interest. It will take a few tries, but it’s a good idea to try out the art on different walls to see where it works best.

Creating an atmosphere – Every room has a purpose, so the art you choose has to fulfill the same purpose, whether it matches the room or not. In a bedroom it’s appropriate for art to be calming, or even seductive, but in a dining room you can afford to be bolder and more dramatic. If you intend to relax in your living room, don’t choose art that’s too loud, or anything that feels as though it takes over the room. The purpose of the room where you intend to display your art should influence the tone of the artwork itself. Happy picture hangin’! 

Hello Art Lovers — Europe’s Finest Galleries Are Waiting for You

Art and Europe, they’re synonymous, right?. Some of the greatest artists to ever pick up a paintbrush (or whatever it was that they chose to use) hailed from the hallowed turfs of a number of European countries. From Pablo Picasso to Lucian Freud, Europe totally and truly has a legacy in the world of artwork. And that legacy lives on at all times through the various art galleries that are dotted around the continent. I adore the different galleries in London and have been a lucky enough gal to have visited them on travels too. If you’re a lover of art like me, then you just gotta visit one of, if not all, of the galleries on this list.

Whitechapel Gallery, London – Shoreditch, London boasts an array of top art galleries, but Whitechapel is at the helm of that rather illustrious list. It’s richness in history is just one of the reasons why. It houses pieces created by some of the greatest European artists ever to live, like as mentioned above, Picasso and Freud. It has truly been a staple of the London art scene for well over a century. But it’s not all about the past. Whitechapel also boasts an array of the most modern pieces of art imaginable. A visit here is a must for all art lovers. But why just limit yourself to seeing style in the gallery that you visit? When staying in this part of the world, you have to do it right. By this it is meant that you have to do it in style. And to do it in style you should stay in a hotel like as the Dorsett City, London, it’s pretty swoon worthy in my opinion. The best thing of all, there is merely an eight minute walks worth of distance between this hotel and the gallery. Boom. Treat yo’self. 

The National Gallery, Prague – Prague’s National Gallery plays host to the largest collection of art in the Czech Republic — a pretty impressive feat when you consider just how artsy and vibrant this country is! In this collection, traditional Czech artwork, Cubism and Baroque pieces can be found. so, ya know that a visit here is never gonna get dull. With all the things to see on offer here there will always be something new to feast your eyes upon around every single corner. And there will always be something for somebody to enjoy, even those who you drag to the gallery that kinda protest that galleries are boring!

The Groeninge Museum, Bruges – For all art lovers out there who have a particular appreciation for pieces of the past, then Groeninge is an ace place for you. The artwork found here dates as far back as the 18th century and gives you a real taste for the local culture and the pieces that originate from this area of the world.

When you plan to visit an art gallery, especially one in a city you’ve never been to before, you have to plan your day. You have to be attentive to the fact that there is simply just so much to see, not only in the gallery itself but in the city in which it stands. Because of this, to save you missing out on anything, you should plan your day to ensure you see just about everything. Go, have an adventure!