Oscar style Inspiration - Designer Charles James

I could use a stylist.   The current awards season (Golden Globes, SAG, Grammy Awards) and the upcoming Oscars have put me in a tizzy over what to wear.   I really want to look good, while I’m sitting on my couch saying aloud:  “Jennifer Hudson is NOT a size 6.  I don’t care how good she looks!”

I wanted to dream a bit, so I headed over to the Chicago History Museum’s gem of an exhibit, Charles James, Genius Deconstructed.  I don’t know much about Haute CoutureBut, once I stepped into this small, but superbly-curated show by Timothy Long, I wanted to learn so much more about Charles — the man, the creator, the designer and the student once expelled from Harrow for a “sexual escapade.”

London-born and raised by an English military officer and a well-to-do mother from Chicago, James had the good fortune of meeting the famous fashion and society photographer Cecil Beaton, who supported and befriended him.

The expulsion from Harrow for misbehaving brought him to Chicago where he opened a hat-making shop in 1926 at 1209 North State Street, using the name Charles Boucheron.

After presenting his collection at Marshall Field and Company, the natural progression was New York, becoming a true couturier, marriage, children and…never coming out of the closet!!

(photo credits: Chicago History Museum)

At some point, James faded into obscurity.  However, in 1970 the acclaimed (and former milliner himself) Halston invited Charles James to consult on a new fashion collection.   Again, due to his own personal problems or typical creative struggles, his popularity was short-lived.  It is a shame, because I think he was remarkable with his innovative vision and execution.

One thing I know — this man knew how to construct and shape fabric into stunning and beautiful designs.  There is a seamless flow to every dip, curve, pleat and pouff.  The Chicago History exhibit also displays fabricator Michael Hall’s illustrations of several garments — no slouch either, we are talking CT scans and major precision in his technical drawings.

I have my fantasy dress picked out, and believe me, if I even think about munching on a Crunchy Cheetos during the Academy Awards telecast, I will remind myself that, it always helps to have a fabulous designer on call.  Oh, and preferably one who knows how to make sure that my body looks better than it is.

If not, maybe just “evenly proportioned.”  Repeat after me:  “Bias cuts, bias cuts, bias cuts….”

Charles James: Genius Deconstructed

thru April 16


1601 N. Clark Street

Chicago, IL



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