Obituary: Cornelia James
Monday 20 December 1999
At the age at 21, living in Vienna under the threat of Nazism, she had escaped to Paris, taking with her as much leather as she could handle, her head full of designs and ideas. Shortly afterwards she came to England to await a visa for the United States. Instead she met Jack James and within six weeks they were married and all thoughts of America disappeared.
She spent the Second World War doing occupational therapy for wounded soldiers, teaching them the handcraft skills of glove-making, a subject she had studied at the Vienna Art College.
With her feel for colour she quickly realised that the post-war, rather drab, "utility" clothing could be brightened by wearing colourful gloves, and Cornelia James Ltd was born. In those early days she concentrated on snappy designs and brightness. This new approach was soon rewarded: both the royal couturiers, Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies, were attracted to her designs and in 1947 she was asked to make the "going-away" gloves for the then Princess Elizabeth after her marriage to Prince Phillip.
The following spring Cornelia James launched a range of leather gloves in 100 different shades and became known as "the Colour Queen of England", a title which delighted her. By the early 1950s, she was employing 500 people at her Brighton factory and was selling her gloves to all the large department stores in Britain and world-wide.
Even the downturn in the demand for dress gloves did not defeat her: she turned to the production of silk scarves in distinctive designs and colours and also produced corporate neckwear. In addition, her love of gloves led her to seek new outlets, mainly in the worlds of theatre, television and film and she also continued to make gloves for the Queen, the Queen Mother and the Princess Royal.
In 1979 she was honoured by the grant of a Royal Warrant as Glove Manufacturer to the Queen. She was a very active member of the National Association of Glove Manufacturers, always ready to put forward her ideas for the betterment of the industry as a whole, and was a strong advocate of the export markets.
The glove world has lost one of its great characters in "Nellie", as Cornelia James was affectionately known. She loved entertaining and was a perfect hostess. I well remember the association's first Glove Fair which was held at the Metropole Hotel, Brighton, during the early Sixties: as it was on her "home ground" she made sure that all the exhibitors were well looked after each evening at her house, with Jack, as always, at her side.
She was forever thinking ahead to her next "collection", always searching for new ideas, new materials, constantly striving to keep gloves to the fore - a somewhat frustrating task, particularly in these days of casual fashion.
She became a Member of the Worshipful Company of Glovers in 1989, at the same time receiving the Freedom of the City of London. She supported the Livery Company in its many activities, supplying gloves for the annual Glove Personality Award and for the various charities supported by the company. Through gifts of gloves and scarves she also supported many charity events in Brighton and Hove, in particular the Heart Unit at the Sussex County Hospital and the Martlets Hospice, where she herself faced her end with great courage, dignity and humour.
Cornelia Katz, glove-maker: born Vienna 11 March 1917; married 1940 Jack James (died 1986; one son, one daugther); died Hove, East Sussex 10 December 1999.
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