Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Royal Profile: Cornelia James

What do the Queen, Madonna and characters from Star Wars have in common? They have all worn gloves by Cornelia James.

Cornelia James was born Cornelia Katz on March 11, 1917 in Vienna. The eldest of seven children born to Jewish parents. She studied at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts (the same college that turned down Adolf Hitler). In 1939, as the Nazi's approached, Cornelia fled first to Paris then to England with the clothes on her back and a suitcase full of colored leather. She supported herself by scrubbing floors and during the Second World War she put her knowledge of art and design to good use as an occupational therapist teaching glove-making to wounded soldiers.

She founded her high end glove-making company in 1946 and came to the attention of royal family designer, Norman Hartnell. Her relationship with the royal family began in 1947 after Hartnell asked her to make the gloves for Princess Elizabeth's wedding and going away outfits. In 1979, Cornelia James' company was awarded the Royal Warrant as glove-maker to the Queen. An accolade the company still holds. Along with the Queen, royal clients include the late Queen Mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, Princess Anne, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Princess Beatrice, Lady Helen Taylor and the Empress of Japan. Other non-royal clients include Kate Moss, Taylor Swift, Rhianna, Madonna. The company has also designed gloves for theatre, film and television productions such as Downton Abbey, Mamma Mia, Wicked, Moulin Rouge, Pride and Prejudice and Australia.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s there was a shortage of colored fabrics so she dyed her own gloves in over 100 different colors. In 1956 she was christened 'The Color Queen of England' by the fashion accessories industry. She was a member of the National Association of Glove Manufacturers and the Worshipful Company of Glovers. In 1989 she received the Freedom of the City of London. Active in various charities, she donated gloves and scarves for charity events in Hove and Sussex. At the peak of her career in the 1950s Cornelia James had 500 people working at her Brighton factory. As the popularity of gloves waned, company branched out into other fashion items. The company now has three sewers working with her daughter Genevieve and her husband Andrew Lawson to make luxury gloves and fashion accessories known for their handmade high quality.

Affectionately known as "Nellie,' she loved entertaining and was a perfect hostess. Cornelia married Jack Burnett James in 1940, six weeks after they met. They had two children, Peter, a bestselling writer of crime fiction whose characters frequently wear Cornelia James gloves. Her daughter Genevieve Lawson, continues to run the company their mother built. Her husband James died in 1986. Cornelia died in Hove, East Sussex on December 10, 1999.

© Marilyn Braun 2016

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.


The Independent: Cornelia James Obituary
Cornelia James - About us
Fashion Model directory - Designers Cornelia James
New York Times - Gloves fit for a Queen
The Telegraph: Royal glove-maker - Those gloves take a beating'
Mother Love - Peter James and his mother Cornelia James
Cornelia James - Wikipedia
The Royal Shopping Guide by Nina Grunfeld,1984