Charles James Exhibit & the April Giveaway

I was hoping to make it to the Charles James exhibit at the Chicago History Museum last weekend, but I got too wrapped up in my Quaker Oats polka dot dress (which is sadly still unfinished).  But this Sunday I made a conscious effort to stop working (on my Nautical dress) and take a break to visit the exhibit.

It was a one-room exhibit with close to 15 garments, and they were all stunners.  I took some notes and attempted to sketch a few of the design concepts with my very ill drawing skills.  Lucky for me/you they have a flickr site with some detailed images as well as a booklet of the designs for sale on their site.

I was there studying the dresses and handling the recreated under-construction displays for close to 2 hours, yet it felt like I was only there for 20 minutes.  Time flies when you’re having fun!

When I came back home I felt an odd mixture of feelings.  I was completely in awe of his designs & construction, I felt very inspired, and yet I felt like I am light years away from being able to do anything as advanced as his pieces were.  I felt very humbled as I was finishing up the construction of my nautical dress.  It felt like it was so simple compared to his glamorous ball gowns and bias designs.

The under-construction of the Tree dress is craziness:
Charles James "Tree," front view

This is an image from this blog post (via the Chicago Historical Museum) that is a recreation of the inner construction of the Tree Dress.  (And another interesting post here.)

This dress weights 13 lbs primarily due to the inner construction.  There are so many layers and panels that Charles James created in order for the dress to retain this particular shape… I could make sense of a few, but I felt like I also wanted to take apart each of the layers to examine in more detail what they were all composed of.

The Tree dress (above) along with the Butterfly dress (below) left me speechless.

Charles James “Butterfly,” front view

Do you see the forward curve in the hip line?  That is part of the inner-construction.  Charles James didn’t design to human bodies, he designed a dress for what he wanted the female form to look like.  And with the inner-construction, he made it to fit a person.  I’m not used to this concept at all!  It still boggles my mind.

Butterfly dress back detail:

Charles James “Butterfly,” detail

Seriously…. how?!  I’m in serious awe.  It’s no wonder why so many designers still reference his works.

Knowing beforehand that I wasn’t allowed to take photos, I went to the gift shop first to see the what they had to offer as far as books were concerned for the exhibit.  Luckily they had a reasonably priced booklet that has decent quality images of the collection.  (Much better than my hand drawings!)  So I nabbed a few copies as I left the Museum and I have not one but TWO copies to giveaway to you guys!

To enter in the April Giveaway for a copy of Charles James Exhibit Designs/Booklet:

Please leave a comment letting me know what your favorite era for fashion is and why?

To kick it off I’m answering my own question.  :)  My favorite era is the late 40’s, during the transition to Dior’s New Look (which I just learnt that Dior noted that Charles James inspired him to in creating his New Look designs.)  It combines all of the styling I love from the 40’s with hints of 50’s waists and puffy skirts.

Good luck everyone! I’ll announce the 2 winners (chosen by random selection) on Monday morning, April 23rd (and will close the comments Sunday night at 11pm April 22nd.)

As always my giveaway is open to anyone, no matter where you live; I’m happy to ship anywhere.

In: Sewing

Blogger for 6 years and counting, I am a passionate creator who loves to tinker.

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