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"Butterfly"

Designer: Charles James (American, born in Great Britain, 1906-1978)
Date: 1955
Medium:
Silk
Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Charles James produced some of the most memorable garments ever made. He began his design career in the 1930s. It peaked between the late 1940s and mid-1950s, when his scarce and highly original gowns were sought after by society’s most prominent women. Personally draping and constructing the garments that bear his label, he is considered to be the only American to work in the true couture tradition. James saw himself as an artist and sculptor of dress rather than a dressmaker. He manipulated fabrics into dramatic shapes using complex seaming and sometimes complicated understructures to create his singular vision of timeless elegance. A master of the relationship between form, color and texture, he often heightened the drama of his evening wear by combining several like fabrics of different colors, or different fabrics in like colors but with different light reflective qualities. Also a perfectionist, he worked for years on refining certain seam lines, shapes and constructs that particularly expressed his vision of artistry through rigorous engineering. Many of his pieces are conceived asymmetrically and possess a sense of movement and vitality that is a signature characteristic of his work.
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"In the hourless forest
a tall tree is being felled.
...
Search, birds, search
for the site of your nests
in this high memory
while it is still murmuring."

— Jules Supervielle