Monday 5 May 2014

Charles James - Time to Dress Up and Celebrate

The Met Ball is held tonight in celebration the new Charles James exhibition. I am just awaiting the Charles James - Beyond Fashion book that I have been waiting for, for the last few years.

I first saw Charles James dresses in New York at the FIT Museum a few years ago. I stood in that room as long as I could leaning over the electronic rails to get as close a look at the seams on a stunning emerald green gown. Along with the Tree dress they were the most beautiful dresses I had ever seen.

They were pure couture, hand constructed with incredible cuts and drapes. The seams on the emerald dress didn't quite match which made it all the more beautiful in it's perfect imperfectness. Thankfully James persuaded his clients to gift these one of a kind gowns to the museums so that they have remained safe for us to see today.

Madge Garland aka Mrs Ashton editor of Vogue during the 1930s said 'He had more knowledge of fashion in his little finger than the whole world of couture put together'. Hugo Vickers Cecil Beaton. 

That green gown made me want to work harder and better and learn so much. It told me that I didn't have to try and be cool designing street wear or day wear or garments I didn't feel inspired by. It said this is what happens when you try to aim for the most magnificent. And whilst the everyday ass produced garments rot in landfill these dresses will live as monuments to giving your everything in design.
If I have just one dress end up worthy in a museum collection, I will die very happy.

Thinking of James as a so called elitest designer made me think of how we dress today. A few days ago I people watched from a cafe in the Clifton area of Bristol. As thousands of people passed me not one stood out as wearing anything with any substance or style. Sure it was daytime but the lack of individuality or even use of lipstick was clear. Grunge is great but when everyone wears the same uniform the effect just looks lazy and vacant. Does no one want to look anything more? And what's with all this wearing £2 leggings as trousers? Do young women really just climb off a mattress and pull these things on off the floor?
Then I discovered there  was little wonder why all these people were dressed the same when in three shops along the same side of the street (Park Street, Bristol) had exactly the same stock. As teenagers we used to visit this road to find individual pieces, stand out accessories and vintage one of a kind clothing. The thought of wearing the same as anyone else wasn't cool.

This is why today I am even more drawn to the designers from the past, Charles James, Christian Dior who helped nations of people look incredible and individual with their fashion fantasies.

I tried to find out everything I could about the designer. Cecil Beaton as a close friend barely mentions his work in his diaries and there was once just one little book available to buy. He was almost forgotten.
The Book High Style - Masterworks from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Met has a good number of images and information. Now Beyond Fashion will deliver.

I really hope this long awaited celebration of Charles James' work sparks a revolution in style enabling us all to dress up and stand out.

Further Reading

Met Ball Turns to High Society but can the high street cash in. The Guardian - Imogen Fox
High Style The Met Museum
Beyond Fashion: Charles James
The Fabled Charles James Colin McDowell