Dec. 4, 2005 — St. Croix-born fashion designer and art collector Wayne James, speaking at the Victoria House on the Waterfront in Frederiksted on Tuesday, said "I like to do a lot of stuff at the same time."
He said he does this because "different projects blossom at different times" and that it helps "weather the highs and lows."
As James moved from room to room to find an art object or designer item to illustrated a point, he exhibited a grace that indicated it was formed under pressure. He appears younger than his age, is thin, agile and very articulate.
Most Virgin Islanders are familiar with his collecting of Danish West Indies antiques. In February, he was partner in an auction of West Indian mahogany furniture that had been in Denmark. The auction was to benefit the Caribbean Museum Center of Arts and the Medical Clinic both in Frederiksted. The auction did not end on the most positive note as James partner, Warren Mosler, circulated a photo of a pile of cash that he said Gov. Charles W. Turnbull used at the auction to buy furniture. Mosler and James are now in court concerning their former partnership. James can, in an easy manner but with forceful confidence, explain why he took the stand that he did in that controversy.
Controversy has not dulled James enthusiasm for two other public projects he has going now. Before this tourist season is over he expects to have the Wayne James Concept Store opened at 55-56 Company Street in Christiansted. When asked about a specific date, he said, "It better be soon. I have signed the lease. I am paying rent." However, he said getting some permits to do some inside work at the store has caused a delay.
He has interesting, if pricey, merchandise to sell. He has belts with leather from Italy and buckles finished by a metal smith in Northern Europe. The buckles, designed by James, are topographically correct reproductions of maps of the various Virgin Islands. The belts, which will come in special mahongy boxes, are priced at about $800.
He has also designed a Crucian bracelet. He said, "I was getting tired of the Knot."
It is solid gold and copies its design from antique West Indian bedposts. The bracelets will cost about $500.
Other items designed by James and ready to be sold are leather carry-on bags and cases for passports and boarding passes.
Besides items from the Wayne James Estate Collection, the store will feature food and furniture for sale.
The furniture will be West Indian antiques. The food will be packaged delicacies from Denmark.
James has kept his connection going with Denmark partly through the Hagemann family of Denmark-Sweden. Wayne marks several generations of friendship between the James family of St. Croix and the Hagemann family. The relationship started in the first years of the 1900s. Isaac Gateword James (1893-1978), James's grandfather, lived with the Hagemanns at their 13th century castle, Borupgaard, in Helsingor, Denmark while he was being educated as a chemist. Likewise in the 1930s, Wayne James' father, Gustav Alexander James (1919-1983), lived with the Hagemanns at the castle while studying agriculture. Since boyhood, when Wayne travels to Scandinavia for historical research, for social events, and to collect Danish West Indies antiques, he often resides at the castle, overlooking the Baltic Sea.
This relationship reached another milestone on Nov. 12 when, in a formal ceremony, held in Stockholm, Wayne became godfather to Baroness Tuja Lyche Johanna Hagemann von Troll. The baroness is the great-great-great granddaughter of Gustav Adolf Hagemann (1842-1916), who came to St. Croix in the 1870s to help modernize the sugar cane industry. By the 1890s, Hagemann had purchased Estate La Grande Princess in Christiansted and much of the western portion of St. Croix — including estates La Grange, Prosperity, Williams, Punch, Wheel of Fortune, and Mars Hill.
"Being asked to stand as godfather is perhaps the greatest honor a friend can bestow upon another," James said. "And when the honor is connected to generations of family history and relations, it is all the more special."
He added, "In the 1870s in the New World, black people and white people did not, in general, keep company socially. At the foundation of the Hagemann-James friendship has always been mutual respect and admiration. The families, for example, share names, attend each other's weddings and funerals, and send gifts. At the castle, for example, there is a room called the West Indies Room, filled with mahogany antiques made by my great-grandfather, Lucas James (1862-1896). And at La Grange, once the seat of the Hagemann's local holdings and the now home of the James family for four generations, there are porcelains, crystals, and Persian rugs sent from the Hagemanns to the Jameses over the years. There is always an open invitation on both sides of the Atlantic."
Besides his store in Christiansted, James is working on plans for a museum on Queens Crossing in Frederiksted. He has purchased the property and architectural plans have been drawn up. On the property now are only the ruins of an old brick home once owned by his grandfather. The museum will hold many of the portraits of Africans and the Danish landscapes he has collected.
James was a member of the Landmarks Society board of trustees. Now, he is a member of the board of directors of CHANT (Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism).
He launched his fashion career in 1987 while in his last semester of law school at Georgetown University. Since then, he has designed garments for Pope John Paul II, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, and the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
In 2004 Ebony Magazine named James one of the foremost black fashion designers in America.
As for furniture collecting, he said in an interview, "The first piece of furniture I bought for myself was a mahogany hat-stand in 1984. Since then, Ive continued to add to my collection over time. I see the objects I collect as a celebration of the person who made them."
His keenest interest has been in mahogany. He said in a previously published interview, "Mahogany is just beautiful to look at. It has texture and it carves so well. It flows I think that the lines, which are very classic, highlight the beauty of the wood. The best examples of this furniture are timeless."
James graduated in 1983 from Bradley University with a bachelor's degree in English literature and art history.
Immediately after graduating, James returned to St. Croix to work with the Division of Tourism as the Tourism Careers Coordinator. A year later, he entered the Georgetown University Law School where he obtained a Juris Doctor degree with a focus on international law.
In 1987, while in his last semester of law school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., then 25 year-old James presented his first fashion collection in New Yorks SoHo district. Then Washington Post fashion editor Nina Hyde hailed James as one of the rising stars among young New York designers."
In 1993, James created a line of island-inspired seasonings and sauces called Carnival. Today, the line is sold in outlets ranging from gourmet stores to military commissaries to department stores across America.
In 1998, in recognition of the estimated millions of African people who died on slaving vessels crossing the Atlantic Ocean en route to enslavement in the Americas between the 15th and 19th centuries, James established the Middle Passage Monument Project. Then, on July 3, 1999, in recognition of the closing of the 150th anniversary of Emancipation in what is today the U.S. Virgin Islands, James lowered a 17-foot monument onto the floor of the Atlantic Oceans infamous Middle Passage, thereby marking what had previously been described as the worlds largest, yet unmarked, graveyard. A few months later, in September of that year, James received the International Humanitarian Medal fo
r his accomplishment.
Last year he had an exhibition at the Whim Museum called "Press to Des, Pillar to Post: The Art and Antiques of a Worldly Bachelor."
As James discusses his past accomplishments, he exhibits little pride. He seems too busy for much pride. He wants to move on to his next project.
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