In early March it was announced that Zac Posen would assist with the revitalization of the Charles James fashion house, which was bought by Harvey Weinstein, who is best-known as being the executive producer on movies such as The Aviator, Inglorious Bastards and Django Unchained, last year. Other key players include Weinstein’s wife and Marchesa co-founder, Georgina Chapman, along with Marchesa’s other co- founder, Keren Craig, and CEO of Marchesa, Edward Chapman.
Both designers are known for their over-the-top, yet beautifully constructed couture gowns; which is why the choice of Posen was such a brilliant move by Weinstein.
James was a born in 1906 in Surrey, England to a prominent American mother and a British military father. His design career started in 1926 in Chicago, though he moved around frequently and had many failed attempts before permanently settling down in New York in 1939. Today he is regarded as the First American Couturier.
James, who never had any formal training in dressmaking or sewing, instead had to rely on his knowledge of mathematics, science and architecture in order to create his designs. He mainly designed for women, but unlike most designers, did not use the female body as his inspiration, but rather as a point of reference when generating his new designs. James would continue to use the same bones of dresses, but by constantly tweaking them and combining elements in different ways, he could produce entirely new designs each time. His designs range from the Victorian full-bodied skirts and corseted tops to foundations that resemble insects, such as his design “Butterfly.”
Posen, on the other hand, was born in 1978 and grew up in the New York City neighborhood of SoHo. He showed an early interest in fashion design and even interned with designer Nicole Miller when he was 16. He then attended London’s Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in the womenswear degree program.
His designs soon became well-known among prominent fashion insiders, and after his first runway show in 2001, multiple designers approached Posen in hopes of collaboration. Instead, Posen decided to open his own business – first from his parent’s living room – and later at a studio in the Tribeca neighborhood of NYC.
Posen, unlike James, does have extensive experience with ready-to-wear. But it is also clear that Posen has great skill and passion for making couture gowns. Both James’ and Posen’s designs are structurally reminiscent of organic elements. James was influenced heavily by nature, this is especially apparent in his designs titled “Tree,” “Petal,” and “Tulip.” Posen has likewise constructed dresses that are, in terms of shape, consistent natural elements similar to James’ own creations.
Because of the extensive history and legacy that James left behind, the revitalization of his fashion house is certainly something that everyone is excited to see play out. Posen surely has the creative mind to continue making awe-inspiring gowns, but what influences will he pull from James?
While nobody is expecting him to duplicate any original gowns, will he mimic what James did in the past and use the foundations of previous gowns and just mix different elements to come up with new designs?
One design element that both designers like to use is fabric to create texture and movement within the dress: folding the fabric on itself to create lines or having exposed layering which give it body. When thinking about the melding of Posen’s current style and James’ historical styles it is easy to get a good idea of what the future will look like for the brand.
During James’ time fashion was saturated with Hollywood glamour and the Dior New Look, which is easily seen in his designs. There is that sense of elegance and sophistication. But in the early 2000s, when Posen was taking off, fashion was drenched in street style. His designs, while still elegant, have a bit more funk and pizazz to them; they were made for the modern woman. These differences will definitely be a contributing factor in the direction the fashion house goes.
Knowing the legacy that James has left behind and the current direction of Posen, it will be interesting to see what comes out of this partnership. Whatever happens, it is sure to stun and keep everyone on the edge of their seats.