Exacting, temperamental, and brilliant, master American couturier Charles James was not an easy person to know, or an easy designer to wear. His sculptural, extreme fashions were breathtaking works of art which ignored the natural contours of both the fabrics with which he worked, and the bodies of the women whom he dressed; the gowns demanded a certain subjugation of personal comfort, but James's discriminating clientele of some of the world's most elegant women undoubtedly felt the sacrifice worthy of the end result.
A Decade of Design exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, 1948
Completely dedicated to the art of fashion, rather than the business of it, James produced less than a thousand designs in his 45-year career; and his lack of business acumen is almost as legendary as his legacy of beautiful clothes. He met his ultimate muse, his greatest champion, and his most formidable sparring partner in the equally willful personality of oil heiress Millicent Rogers. Their combatative, collaborative relationship (she would alter James's designs for her) was so artistically successful, it was showcased in an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in 1948. Titled "A Decade of Design," it featured clothes James had created specifically for Rogers over the past decade. An exotic, original beauty, Millicent Rogers certainly knew how to create her own style and wear almost anything; Charles James could ask for no better model.