Not currently on display at the V&A

Tree Dress

Evening Dress
1955 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

The inspiration for this elegant evening dress probably came from cuirasse bodices and bustle skirts of the 1870s. James was fascinated by the cut of historical dress and explored innovative new forms of garment construction, such as spiral draping. His forte included the creation of luxurious, full-skirted evening gowns. He looked on dresses as works of art, as did his customers. Born in Britain, James (1906-1978) worked as a milliner and custom dressmaker in New York in 1924-1929. In 1929 he opened premises in London, and a Paris branch in 1934. In 1939 he returned to New York and went on inventing and reworking toiles and constructing extraordinary clothes in lavish fabrics for a devoted clientele.

This dress was worn by Mrs Ronald Tree and forms part of the Cecil Beaton Collection. This Collection was brought together by the society photographer Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980). With great energy and determination Beaton contacted the well-dressed elite of Europe and North America to help create this lasting monument to the art of dress. The Collection was exhibited in 1971, accompanied by a catalogue that detailed its enormous range.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Silk taffeta, the bodice mounted on a boned foundation, the skirt supported by net and cotton webbing underskirts, fastened with two zips, mainly hand-sewn with some machine-stitching
Brief Description
Evening dress of silk taffeta, 'Tree Dress', designed by Charles James, New York, 1955.
Physical Description
Evening dress of silk taffeta, consisting of an outer taffeta shell of a bodice, two form-hugging ruched skirts over a full lower skirt. They are attached to and depend upon a shape-forming foundation. This is intricate and heavy with a boned corset and 12 layers of under-skirts ranging from stiffened cotton webbing to fine net. It fastens at the centre back with two zips. Some seams are machine-stitched but the garment is mainly hand sewn. The hem has a deep facing of bright peacock blue silk taffeta which would have been seen occasionally when the dress was in movement.
Credit line
Given by Mrs Ronald Tree
Object history
"The angle at which the flounce is mounted on the torso... was controlled by slashing the pattern vertically every seven inches or so, so that geometrically the spread of the hemline is no larger in the back than in the front. In movement this creates a lightness... The overdraping (depends) on carefully placed incisions which make it possible to create the greatest tension in the silk when on the body... The underbodice... is rather let out in front and firmly shaped on the sides and side back. The construction of the inner bodice as to the grain of the fabric used produced a silhouette unlike any of the shaped clothes at the time I executed this design, or in fact at any time."

(Letter from Charles James, 24 July 1971.)



This dress was worn by Marietta Tree (Mrs Ronald Tree) and forms part of the Cecil Beaton Collection.With great energy and determination the late Sir Cecil Beaton contacted the well-dressed elite of Europe and America to bring this lasting monument to the art of dress. The collection was exhibited in 1971, accompanied by a catalogue which detailed its enormous range (catalogue number 160. page 33)



In Elizabeth Ann Coleman's book, "The Genius of Charles James", this design is identified as the "Tree Dress" (cat no 123). Although Coleman could not identify the original client for the gown, it is tempting to speculate that it was named for Marietta Tree. It is more probable, however, that the title refers to the silhouette suggesting a tree trunk with spreading roots beneath, and the name of the client who wore our gown is coincidental. James often named his gowns after natural sources of inspiration, such as Tulip, Starfish, Butterfly, and Four-Leaf Clover.
Association
Summary
The inspiration for this elegant evening dress probably came from cuirasse bodices and bustle skirts of the 1870s. James was fascinated by the cut of historical dress and explored innovative new forms of garment construction, such as spiral draping. His forte included the creation of luxurious, full-skirted evening gowns. He looked on dresses as works of art, as did his customers. Born in Britain, James (1906-1978) worked as a milliner and custom dressmaker in New York in 1924-1929. In 1929 he opened premises in London, and a Paris branch in 1934. In 1939 he returned to New York and went on inventing and reworking toiles and constructing extraordinary clothes in lavish fabrics for a devoted clientele.



This dress was worn by Mrs Ronald Tree and forms part of the Cecil Beaton Collection. This Collection was brought together by the society photographer Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980). With great energy and determination Beaton contacted the well-dressed elite of Europe and North America to help create this lasting monument to the art of dress. The Collection was exhibited in 1971, accompanied by a catalogue that detailed its enormous range.
Bibliographic References
  • Letter from Charles James, 1971, cited in the Beaton Catalogue, no.160.
  • Fashion : An Anthology by Cecil Beaton. London : H.M.S.O., 1971no. 160
Collection
Accession Number
T.277-1974

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record createdDecember 15, 1999
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