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

7 Ways To Rock Flats

A pair of heels can make you feel taller, sassier and more confident, I love wearing a heel, but we all know that wearing them too much isn’t good for our joints in the long run, bunions like Victoria Beckham anyone? Nope. Nope, thank you. It’s great to take a break from heels and summer is an especially great time to embrace the flat! They are way comfier, can make you feel ready for any adventure, and, can look super cute too, here’s some styles to choose from, which ones will you be rockin’?

Sneakers – Almost everyone has a pair of sneakers in their wardrobe even if its only for your active days when you pop to yoga or go for a run. Whilst they’re mainly a casual style of shoe, many people break the rules wearing these shoes on a night out with dresses, I adore the cutesy dress with tomboy trainers look. Paired with skinny jeans, a blazer and a fresh tee, they can even be worn to work as smart-casual. Try showing some ankle to accentuate your shoes and keep you sneakers looking sharp!

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Plimsolls – Plimsolls are a little more versatile than chunky sneakers, and I’m TOTALLY a Converse girl. You can match these with everything from dresses to suits for an ace laid-back look. You may draw the line at wearing them to a very formal events, but, I’ve teamed mine with a floor length 1930’s evening dress in the past, it’s elegant with a hint of playfulness. You can also customise laces and add DIY decoration like studs and sparkle.

Sandals – When it comes to summer footwear, sandals are up there at the top of the list. Whilst there’s plenty of heeled options, there are also amazing flat options like sliders and mules – this guide at https://www.harpersbazaar.com can show you some of the best on the market. Treat yourself to a pedicure before sandal season to keep them tootsies pretty, unless you’re thinking of wearing socks with those sandals!!

Espadrilles – Espadrilles offer more support than sandals whilst still keeping your feet cool and comfy in summer. There’s lots of designs incorporating canvas and wicker which are pretty much essential holiday footwear. Check out Chloe and Zara for some of the most stylish choices, and of course, there are plenty of imitations for those wanting to buy shoes on a shoestring budget.

Slippers – For casual lounging around, nothing beats a pair of slippers. You can even wear slippers out of the house thanks to weatherproof and felt designs as found at sites like https://www.glerups.com/. Fun slipper designs are also cool, like unicorns and geeky movie designs, the slipper game is STRONG right now.

Ballet flats – Ballet flats are suitable for any occasion and are just timeless, bringing a French chicness to your outfit. They make smart workwear and are great going-out shoes too. Sites like http://www.frenchsole.com/balletflats specialise in ballet flats and have a great range for getting inspiration on styles. 

Platforms – Platform flats, or ‘flatforms’ can help to give you the added height without putting a strain on your body. You’ll find platform variations on sandals, espadrilles and even plimsolls. Chunky wedge sneakers are also in, there’s so many to choose from.

Flats really rule the summer, go find your perfect pair!

 

 

 

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.