Sparks of Inspiration

Charles James, Fashion Designer: Creation is simply a problem and design is the way out

File this post under inspirations: The Charles James exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. James, fashion designer from the 1920s through the 1960s, is widely referred to as America’s first couturier. His creations, more than just cut and seamed or wrapped, were sculpted and engineered. He was renowned for his tailoring – the way he built shapes through innovative cutting and layering of fabrics and materials.

Charles James Met ExhibitThe Met exhibit, which opened May 8, focuses heavily on gowns and coats, and it contains enough details to feast on for days. During a recent visit I almost left without seeing the whole exhibit because my mind was so overloaded with new ideas. An ivory-colored ball gown’s bodice front is shaped with only one off-center diagonal seam that creates a smooth tailored fit just above the waistline but refined draping across the upper edge. On another ball gown, a draped orange underskirt peeks out from underneath a peach-colored overskirt. An improbably shaped — but obviously deeply-considered — piece of fabric wraps around the body to create not a draped effect, but a highly tailored fit. I encourage you to watch the video above to get an idea of what I mean — and visit the exhibit if you can. It runs through August 10 (2014).

Here’s a quote from James to inspire any sewing enthusiast who’s ever faced a creative challenge: “All creative work begins by doing something with the hands. Creation is simply a problem and design is the way out.”

[Video: “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” by Fashion Channel via YouTube | Image: Screenshot from the video]