‘Tree’ ball gown 1955
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 under structures to create his singular vision of timeless elegance.
A master of the relationship between form, colour and texture, he often heightened the drama of his evening wear by combining several like fabrics of different colours, or different fabrics in like colours 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.
Many historical references in shapes and construction, especially the drapery forms of the 1870s and early teens, are also prevalent throughout his work.
© 2000–2012 The Metropolitan Museum of Art. All rights reserved. Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., 1981.