James, Charles

Charles, James, 1906–78, American fashion designer known primarily for his high-style couture creations, b. Sandhurst, England. Although he had no formal training in dressmaking, he is generally considered to be the first American couturier. The son of a British army officer and an American socialite, he moved to the United States in 1922 and opened a millinery shop in Chicago four years later, worked in New York City in 1928 and in London in 1930, then opened a couture studio in Paris in 1934. In 1939 he returned to New York City, which was where he was based for most of the rest of his career; he created many of his finest garments there in the late 1940s and 1950s. Both James and his loyal clients, who included socially prominent women, designers, artists, and performers, regarded his complex and inventive designs as works of art. He was known especially for his elegantly draped ball gowns, sculpted to the body with yards of sumptuous fabrics, and for the architectural construction of his coats and capes.

See E. A. Coleman, The Genius of Charles James (1982); H. Koda et al., Charles James: Beyond Fashion (museum catalog, 2014).

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