Charles James: Designer in Detail

Image of Charles James: Designer in Detail
Release Date: 
March 4, 2015
V & A Publishing
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When the subject is Charles James, one can expect accolades and superlatives to be used in excess. What does set this telling apart is that Timothy Long offers a great story and insight in addition to the catalog of this man’s genius . . . or was it obsession?

Charles James: Designer in Detail is a book that offers a crash course in Charles James, the designer, and Charles James, the man.  

In the first portion of the book, Mr. Long tells the tale of Charles James, offering us a chronology of the designer’s life and movements from childhood to adulthood. Within the engrossing story, there are facts about James’ work habits, innovations, and obsessions. Make no mistake; this is not a dry, fact-laden story that will bore you to tears. The text is informative, entertaining, and very educational as there is so much that supports the legend and legacy of this troubled but brilliant designer.

Once the personality, work habits, and biographical details have been offered up, Long delves into the distinct qualities of the actual styles that are attributed to and designed by Charles James. Each style has a photo and some description as well as diagram to explain the mechanics of the style. You might think it a bit technical, but it offers the reader a glimpse into James’ obsession with the human body and just how he achieved the silhouettes of these of much vaunted creations. After all, there are not many designers who have rated or deserved museum exhibitions devoted to their body of work. There is no question that Charles James was a once-in-a-generation designer whose legacy will not be forgotten.

Another very provocative aspect of the book is that Long not only praises the artist, but he offers you a taste of what the Jamesean detractors have said about the designer. This is not just another picture book containing perfect photos of pretty dresses. If one had a criticism, it might be that the visuals would have really been more effective if we got to see these dresses on their actual owners. After reading, it is apparent that so much of this man’s body of work, his movements, and his ideas have gone unrecorded due to his own chaotic, nomadic, and troubled life.