Charles was born in England in 1906. He attended school with Cecil Beaton, Eveleyn Waugh and Francis Cyril Rose. He was expelled from school for a “sexual escapade”. He later moved to Chicago where his mother was from and worked at an architecture firm. When he was 19, he opened a millinery shop in Chicago under the name “Charles Boucheron” as his father didn’t want him to use James.
He left Chicago for New York in 1928 where he opened another millinery shop in Queens and also started designing dresses. Some of his early dresses were the spiral zipped dress and the taxi dress "so easy to wear it could be slipped on in the backseat of a taxi”!
He next moved to London and set up another shop. He designed Baba Beaton’s wedding dress (Cecil’s sister) in 1934.
He officially established Charles James Ltd. in 1936. He showed his first collection in Paris in 1937. That year, he created a quilted jacket which Salvador Dalí described as "the first soft sculpture”, now in the V&A.
He also created the Pavlovian waistband in the 1930s, which expands after a meal. His designs were licensed with Lord & Taylor and Bergdorf Goodman.
He moved back to New York permanently in 1939.
At the end of WWII, he designed a clothing line for Ellizabeth Arden.
Christian Dior credited James as the designer that inspired the New Look.
Socialite Millicent Rogers organized an exhibition of the dresses Charles had made for her in 1948, held at the Brooklyn Museum.
In 1948, Cecil Beaton photographed 8 of his dresses for Vogue.
He won two Coty awards, in 1950 and 1954, and a Neiman Marcus award in 1953. In 1953, he created the “Four Leaf Clover” dress for Austine Hearst to wear to the Eisenhower inaugural ball, which has been said to be his finest creation.
He produced a children’s collection after the birth of his son.
He is best known for his structural ballgowns as well as his magnificent capes and coats.
Arnold Scaasi worked for James for two years.
He retired in 1958 and moved into the famed Chelsea Hotel in 1964. He died there in 1978 from pneumonia.
He is often cited as being America’s first couturier.
In 1957, heiress Dominique de Menil wrote to the Brooklyn museum: “My husband and I consider Charles James to be one of the most original and universal designers of this period and in this country. . . . Traveling as we do . . . we are amazed to see how many dresses from the Paris Couture actually can be traced back to Charles James.”
The Costume Institute holds a collection of 800 articles relating to his work including 200 garments.
Galanos was born in Philadelphia in 1924. In 1942, He enrolled in a school headed by the great designer Barbara Karinska but it failed to open. He then enrolled at the Traphagen School of Fashion and attended two semesters before dropping out to instead gain practical work experience. In 1944, he got an assistant position at Hattie Carnegie. He was disappointed that the role was not a creative one and left to sell his sketches to manufacturers for less than $10 each. He got a design job in 1945 with textile magnate Lawrence Lesavoy and his wife Joan in Los Angeles, but it didn’t last long and James was again without a job. Costume designer Jean Louis hired him “out of pity” as an assistant sketch artists for a time.
He ended up in Paris with couturier Robert Piguet. Other designers at this house at at the time included Pierre Balmain, Hubert de Givenchy and Marc Bohan. In 1948, he returned to the US and accepted a job at Davidow dressmaker’s in New York but wasn’t much happy there either.
In 1952, he opened his own ready to wear company ‘Galanos Originals’. His label sold at Saks and Neiman Marcus. He gained immediate fans in such names as Diana Vreeland, Gloria Vanderbilt and Eleanor Lambert. His chiffon dresses in particular made his name, a fabric he was a master of.
He began costume designing for movies in 1953. His first job was designing Rosalind Russell’s costumes for ‘Never Wave at a WAC’. He became firm friends with the actress and designed costumes for her for other movies over the years. After her death, her collection of Galanos dresses was distributed to a number of costume collectors across America.
He was the youngest designer to receive the Coty award in 1954. He won again in 1956 and was inducted into the Coty hall of fame in 1959.
His clothes were closer in quality to French couture than to ready-to-wear, with a lot of handwork going into each piece. He chose all his fabrics on trips to Europe and Asia and often customized fabrics himself, making ample use of ribbons. His designs included a lot of details like sequins, beadwork, feathers, and metallics.
He was also famous for his fur garments and handled them the same as he did any fabric, smocking and quilting them. His fitted fur coats could go for as much as $300,000.
He was noted for his personal Hollywood-esque high style and named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1982.
He received the CFDA lifetime achievement award in 1985.
"James Galanos designs for wealthy women who go to luncheons and cocktail parties, dine at the finest restaurants and are invited to the best parties," reported The New York Times. He was Nancy Reagan’s favourite designer, having first met her in 1951, she wore his designs to many prominent events throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s. Some of his other clients included Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Jackie Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor.
He retired in 1988 but kept his foot in the fashion world nonetheless.
His vintage pieces have been worn in the 21st century by the likes of Renée Zellwegger, Cristina Ricci and Nicole Kidman among many others.
He was one of the first designers honoured with a plaque on the Fashion Walk of Fame in New York in the 2000s.
His work is held in many museums throughout the US and Europe.
He passed away in 2016 at the age of 92.
Pierre Balmain was born in France in 1914. His father owned a drapery business and his mother ran a fashion boutique. He studied architecture in 1933 and did freelance work, drawing for the fashion designer Robert Piguet. He quit his studies to work for Edward Molyneaux in 1934. When WWII started, he joined the house of Lucien Lelong where he met Christian Dior.
He also served in the French air force and the army pioneer corps during the war.
He opened the house of Balmain in 1945 when peace was declared. His first collection consisted of sombre colours, long, bell-shaped skirts and wasp waists. After a positive write up by Gertrude Stein in Vogue, the house was off to immediate success and won an early fan in the Duchess of Windsor. He helped popularize the ‘New Look’ alongside Dior.
He toured Australia in 1947, promoting himself and designing a line of clothes to be produced there.
In 1951, he expanded operations to the U.S. selling RTW and earning himself a Neiman Marcus award there in 1955. By this stage, his clientele included Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh and Mae West.
He did costume design for a number of films including Brigitte Bardot’s ‘And God Created Woman’ (1956) and Sophia Loren’s ‘The Millionairess’ (1962).
He was nominated for a TONY award for costume design on Happy New Year (1960) and designed Josephine Baker ’s wardrobe for her 1964 Revue.
He was chosen to design the wardrobe of Queen Sirikit of Thailand for her tour of the USA in 1960.
He was appointed as a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur in 1962.
He created outfits for the 1968 Winter Olympics.
He designed uniforms for TWA, Malayasia-Singapore Airlines and Air France in the 60s and 70s.
Peter Sarstedt’s 1969 hit song “Where Do you Go (My Lovely)?” Features the line "You talk like Marlene Dietrich and you dance like Zizi Jeanmaire. Your clothes are all made by Balmain and there's diamonds and pearls in your hair - yes there are."
He worked closely with his Danish assistant Erik Mortensen. Another Danish designer, Margit Brandt, worked for him before she started her own line. A young Karl Lagerfeld also came to work for him in the 50s.
His reputation was somewhat tarnished in the eyes of the French high fashion elite when Balmain seemed more interested in money and investments rather than high brow art, despite his financial success and enduring legacy of high quality workmanship and sophistication and elegance in his designs.
He sold the company in 1970 and passed away in 1983 from liver cancer at the age of 68. The house continued under the direction of Erik Mortensen. Subsequent designers for the house have included Peggy Huynh King, Hervé Pierre, Oscar de la Renta, Christophe Decarnin and currently Olivier Rousteing.