Mid-Century Designers

Mid-Century Designers

Charles James

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. 

James Galanos 

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. 

Jacques Fath 

Jacques Fath was a mostly self taught fashion designer, who learned his craft from studying art in museums, taking inspiration from 18th century art and reading fashion books. He left his first career as a stockbroker to attend Drama school, and enrolled in basic pattern making and sketching classics. The theatre and ballet heavily influenced his designs through his use of historical silhouettes featuring bustles and corsetry, and the hourglass shape enhanced with pleats, elegant pocket details, plunging necklines and asymmetry.
In 1937, Fath opened his own atelier and presented his first show at the age of 25. He struggled for the first few years, but in 1939 he married socialite, model, and his own muse, Genevieve Boucher de la Bruyere.
She was seen wearing a beautiful dress he designed at the Grande Nuit de Longchamp horse race, a very chic society event. It caught the attention of renowned fashion critic Lucien Francois, who then made an appointment to visit Fath’s atelier. He wrote about Fath in Vogue saying: “He is inspired. He has a vision. He will succeed.” Fath and his wife became one of the most photographed couples in Paris, and his notoriety as a designer grew.
They threw lavish parties inviting an international guest list of who’s who to promote his business. He became known for dressing “the chic young Parisienne” and utilized innovative materials like hemp sacking, and sequins made from walnut and almond shells.
He also had a career in film, most notably designing ballerina Moira Shearer’s costumes for the 1948 film The Red Shoes.
He dressed Rita Hayworth, even designing her wedding dress and trousseau in 1949.
He also dressed other celebrities like Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner, and Eva Perón to name a few. In one of the only surviving portraits of Eva Perón, she is wearing a Jacques Fath dress.
Fath served during WWII, but was able to return to his work in 1940 on a smaller scale during the German occupation of France. He created peasant skirts that women could wear riding bicycles, when gasoline was rationed. He brought on young designers to mentor and work for him, including Valentino, Givenchy and Guy Laroche. He was very appreciative of everyone who worked for him and for birthdays he treated the men and their wives to dinner, and the women to a bouquet of roses the number of their age. At the height of his success he employed 600 people.
In 1945 he created four outfits for the Théatre de la Mode which traveled to the US, and in 1948 he signed a contract to produce 15-20 designs each year for New York manufacturer Joseph Halpert.
His silhouettes were considered sexier and more body conscious than Dior or Balmain, often emphasizing the bust through dramatic collars and plunging necklines, and skirts were either very slim or very full, consisting of dramatic pleats or sensual drapery.
He also loved asymmetry, often featuring diagonal lines, details like floating ribbon or bows on one side, and irregular necklines. He did not shy away from colour and patterns, and mixed different fabrics in his dresses as well.
In 1949, Life Magazine said: "Dior is still generally acknowledged to be the head man, so to speak, of the fashion world, but Fath has recently had a spectacular rise in prestige, and it now seems likely that the next look to confront and impoverish the U.S. male will be the Fath look." Harper’s Bazaar editor Carmel Snow, who initially paid little attention to Fath, declared: "He makes you look like you have sex appeal—and believe me, that's important."
He died of leukemia in 1954, and left several seasons worth of designs so the line could be continued after his death by Geneviève. She ran the clothing line until 1957, and the line continued as a perfume label until 1992, with an attempt at a revival in 2002.

Pierre Balmain

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. 

Anne Fogarty 

Anne Whitney Fogarty created clothing that was youthful, simple and stylish and what was a quintessentially “American” look. She studied drama in Pittsburg, but fell in love with the costumes she wore.
She moved to New York in 1938, and worked as a fitting model for Harvey Berin while she looked for acting gigs. When she went to quit in order to take an acting job, Berin encouraged her to think about becoming a stylist insead, and allowed her to continue working as a model while being trained by the in-house designers. She took design courses at night and in 1948 she started a job designing clothes for the Youth Guild. She began designing clothing in the New Look style for teenagers.
In 1950, she continued with youth clothing and designed clothing for Margot, Inc.
She made clothing with a narrow waist and full skirt, and was inspired to add crinoline skirts. Her petticoats were made of stiff nylon horsehair, with frills or lace trim, and became part of her signature look, dubbed the “paper-doll” silhouette. She designed based on what she would wear herself and believed a woman should own a dress for everything. If she is doing housework, she wears coveralls instead, so she designed coveralls made to look like a garage mechanic’s, but with embroidered pink and red carnations. Her denim was striped in sweet candy colours, and her shorts and pants featured lace edging.
She was selected as one of the Young Women of the Year by Mademoiselle magazine in 1950. In 1951 she received a Coty award and in 1952 she received the Neiman Marcus award.
In 1959, she published her book called Wife Dressing, a guide for “the fine art of being a well-dressed wife with provocative notes for the patient husband who pays the bills.” She encouraged women to find their own style, recommending an understated, natural look that did not box them into following the fashion of the day. She understood that women lived varied lives, as they were working, students or mothers and wives.
She continued designing for Margot, Inc. and then signed an exclusive contract with Saks Fifth Avenue in 1957. In her first collection, she sold 800 white lace bikinis at Saks! She made others in black lace, gingham checks and leopard print. She is credited with bringing the bikini to the American fashion market.
She is also credited with designing the first shirt-dress, inspired by men’s shirts. The bodice was a button down shirt connected to a full skirt with a petticoat in the Paper-doll silhouette.
In 1962 she opened her own business, Anne Fogarty Inc., and expanded to misses’ sizes for her line. She adapted her designs to suit the times, creating the “tea-cozy dress” where the waist was dropped. She used a narrow silhouette rather than the full skirt, and emphasized the bust line with the Empire silhouette.
She also introduced the “Camise” which was a chemise that fell from a high yoke. She designed quilted skirts worn over hot pants, mini skirts, peasant style blouses and skirts with ruffles in ethnic style prints.
In 1960, she won the Sports Illustrated designer of the year award.
She had a few design collections under different names: A.F Boutique, Clothes Circuit, and Collector’s Items by Anne Fogarty.
She closed her own business in 1974 but continued to design. Months before her death in January 1981, she finished a collection for Shariella Fashion. Describing her career, she said: “I feel that the greatest contribution I have made to sportswear is that of femininity."
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