Charles James: the shape of the dress beyond fashion

The designer Charles James became a role model for fashion designers for his quest for perfection in shaping a dress and his unconventional methods

The fashion designer Charles James who died in 1978 was a role model for a number of reputed fashion designers around the world not only for his relentless quest for perfection in designing the perfect dress, but also his temperamental lifestyle and unusual personality, and the unconventional design process he used for creating his garments. Diane Vreeland said that he would stitch a dress but if not satisfied, he would undo the design and redo it again till he was satisfied, and only then he would allow it to be worn at a party.


Though unlike many fashion designers, he did not have any formal training at a fashion design school in designing clothes, he developed his own unique style of fashion design, based on the principles of structural design for fabrics and mathematics for calculating the dimensions of the clothes. He did not design to satisfy the many fashion critics, instead pushing boundaries for his own creative satisfaction. However, he had his own set of problems, which resulted in erratic behavior at times, but his loyal friends and fans stood by him during his difficult times.

His creativity resulted in a wide range of designs whose quality and popularity varied to a very great extent. Some of his extremely popular designs were very elegant, and had a timeless quality which could be worn even after several decades or updated versions of old fashion Victorian garments designed to suit modern tastes. Others were more bizarre, rather odd and the center of controversy, or to suit the latest fashion trends. An important consideration for all his designs was the space between the clothes and the body. He used a number of vibrant colors as well as different fabrics to create new designs.

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