Charles James was a famous fashion designer whose dress was a way to be recognized as a person of substance, elegance, and originality. His creation was for the woman from every society, from Elsa Schiaparelli, Millicent Rogers to Anne Messel. This man personality, attitude, and perspective towards fashion is unpredictable and have been attempted to portray his persona in several film and literature.
Charles relishes the sophisticated and aristocratic roots but somehow hates American commercialization. His work and collection have been thriving in the industry with the amount you cannot imagine. So we are going to talk about this designer in brief. Before starting, let’s know him better through some quick facts;
Charles James Parents and Siblings
This creative fashion designer was born in Surrey, England. His mother, Louise Brega, was an heiress from Chicago. Not to mention his father, Ralph Ernest Haweis James, was an instructor at the Royal Military College located at Sandhurst. He also had two beautiful sisters.
Among three siblings, James was the second one. His mother had a kind, loving side for her beloved son, while his father was disapproving and had a cold judgment. Moreover, Charles is English by nationality, and his ethnicity is still in the dark.
Charles James Childhood
Born in aristocratic heritage, Charles was raised in a tense family atmosphere. He was surviving in elite but abusive boarding schools. During his childhood, his mother Louise ceaselessly pampered him. But his father was something else. He had a brutal temper and mercilessly beat his one and only son.
Growing tired of an aesthetic circle of friends, Charles was soon pulled out of the school. Later he was even raped by someone from military command on his father’s orders to make a man of his. This amazing fashion designer wrote,
“My father always made me feel that I was an impostor, so my life has been a succession of acts to prove I was, through my work, a real person, not a straw man.”
Due to this traumatizing childhood, Charles sometimes became snobbish, had a quirky manner.
When Was Charles James Born?- Age and Education
Charles Wilson Berga James was born in the year of 18 July 1906. He falls under the sun sign of Cancer. Unlike his father, this English designer was proving to be a musical prodigy.
Apart from this, he was moving a step closer to become a poet and painter. Charles’s education ended with a little musical study in France. After a while, in 1924, his family moved to Chicago, where he started doing a job to earn some bucks.
In 1925, Charles did his first job arranged by Samuel Insull, the utility magnate. After a year, he opened a hat shop on State Street. He named his shop Charles Boucheron because that name did not have James in it, and also Boucheron was the one who taught him how to make hats.
At the tender age of 19, he did not have any fashion knowledge or design training. In the process, this designer opened and closed three shops in Chicago. At the age of 22, he would make hotels his home, find a source to borrow money, and then move on quickly. Some creditors were very troubling and gave him a tough time.
With time, this fabulous designer was making attire for aristocrats such as Anne, Countess of Rosse, Lady Ottoline Morrell, and artists such as Mrs. Osbert Lancaster, the famous illustrator’s wife and ballerina Alicia Markova. Soon his collection became a favorite of wealthy celebrities.
Style icons like Millicent Rogers, Babe Paley, Gypsy Rose Lee, Marlene Dietrich Esme O’Brien, Isa Jennings, amongst others, were his customers. After ten years of his first Paris showing, four months after Dior’s New Look, Charles returned back to Paris in 1947.
Charles James Best Creation
For this astounding legend, his first among his creation happens to be black-and-white “Abstract.” The masterpiece was intricately built to get a good cross-section, and to complete it, Elizabeth Coleman had o hire an engineer. The gown consisted of a vast skirt shaped as a four-chambered wave that was flowing for infinite times.
Mrs. William Randolph Hearst Jr. wore this legendary gown premiered at the 1953 March of Dimes fashion show. When she entered the show, the crowd gave her thunderous applause.
Charles James Taxi Dress
In 1928, Charles launched his shop in Manhattan with the money borrowed from the McCormick millions’ son. At that time, he began designing for Best & Co. That is also the time when he discovered a Spiral Wrap or Taxi dress. It was the first-ever cloth to have a zipper spiraling around the body.
The apparel was designed in such a way that it was like a rollercoaster ride from neckline to hip. In 1930, it was a symbol of the virtuosity and the vertigo of Charles’ life. Soon he was funded by his family and friends, and for a decade, he was shooting between London, New York, Paris, and Chicago. On Bruton and Ryder Streets, James had a London salon, a Paris atelier in the Hotel Lancaster.
Who Is Charles James Wife? Does He Have a Kid?
Not to forget, this talented fashion designer is openly homosexual. At one time, he tried to give up his life by hanging for a boy. By god grace, his neighbor Jean Cocteau happened to cut him down. Despite all this, at the age of 48, James walked down the aisle with Nancy Lee Gregory in 1954.
During that time, James was rumored to be having a fling with a man named Keith Cuerdon, a stage dancer living on Fire Island and Nancy’s husband. What happened after that totally depends on the person who tells the story. Some say Nancy married Charles to punish her husband.
In addition to this, some even said that Charles married Nancy because she was super-rich. Some said that Gregory is the refined, quiet version of James. He was always faithful to her. In an Interview, this handsome said,
“Everyone thinks I married Nancy for her money. I stupidly married Nancy because I loved her. I should have married her for her money— she would have been happy, I would have been happy, and everybody would have gotten along beautifully.”
Furthermore, he is blessed to have two children with his wife, Charles junior, and Louise. Her son Charles is an engineer for Lucent in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, while Louise is an actress in L.A. Each of them has a daughter.
How Much Is Charles James Net Worth?
There was no limited price that Charles could tag in his creation, nor the customer could evaluate the cost. It was never enough. His best friend and avid design lover, Mrs. William H. Moore of the Nabisco fortune, gave him $50,000 half a year. Dominique de Menil, another wealthy woman who adored art and wore James designs, hired him to do the interior decoration of her new house in Houston.
Moreover, no one could give enough, and Charles could not charge enough. His gowns were the most expensive gowns in the world, pricing at $1200. Once, this beautiful fashion designer said that it takes $500,000 a year to run a couture business. According to one of his friends, James tipped a taxi driver with a $100 bill. During that era, it was surely a great sum of money.
There is no denying that James was among one of the richest men in the world. He had a significant amount of money that needed some extra attention in managing it. Jeanne Bultman said in an Interview,
“He had all sorts of accountants coming in and trying to straighten things out. Nobody was successful, because he’d tear the whole thing apart. It wasn’t that James hated ledgers and numbers— he loved them.”
With customers that are bigwigs of the industry like Ohrbach’s, Lord & Taylor, Neiman Marcus, he surely made a hefty amount of money. However, Charles’ exact net worth, salary, and mansions are yet to be revealed in the media.
Charles James Legal Issue
Once Charles claimed that “I am the most copied person in the world.” And after some years, he decided to stop this behavior by other designers. In 1954, his names spread like wildfire when he filed a lawsuit against Samuel Winston for copying his creation.
During that time, Samuel sued James for $61,341 for breach of contract. In contrast to this, the renowned designer countersued for $250,000 charging style piracy and breaching contract. In 1956, Charles won, and despite spending $300,000 on the case, he received a settlement of only $19,018. Even more, that money was attached by the federal government for back taxes.
Not to mention, this English designer never paid withholding taxes on his company. In 1957 and 58, the affairs were in the hands of I.R.S. The empire which he built taking decades was falling like a castle of cards. In 1961, James was left with nothing.
Charles James Death
This legend lost his life to bronchial pneumonia at 2 A.M. on 23 September 1978. He had a fever for three consecutive days and did not visit hospitals (he did not like hospitals). Soon he was taken to the emergency room. When one of the ambulance attendees asked him to identify himself, Charles simply replied,
“It may not mean anything to you, but I am what is popularly regarded as the greatest couturier of the Western world.”
People like James are like a rare diamond in the fashion industry. Despite his narcissism and stubbornness, those closest to him would not challenge this description of himself. That might also be another reason that makes Charles fashion’s greatest mystery.