'Four Leaf Clover' Ball Gown
While James’ inspiration for this dress was likely the 1860s silhouette supported by a cage crinoline, its construction is far more complex than its precursor made of concentric steel wires connected by linen tapes. This one was built using two separate understructures of boning and stiff interfacings to give it shape and balance. The fifteen-pound skirt was engineered to rest comfortably on the hips, and, unlike the cage crinoline, to effectuate a graceful glide rather than a back and forth sway. With artistic bravado, James heightened the visual drama by separating the luminosity of ivory satin and the muted reflectivity of ivory faille on the upper and lower sections with a curvaceous black velvet swath, which further defines the serpentine effect of the four-lobed skirt. As he considered himself to be a sculptor, engineer, and architect, James thought this design his greatest achievement.