It was a signature James design strategy to combine several different fabrics in one garment for special effects of light, color, and movement. Here, according to the museum, "he combined the light-absorbing texture of black velvet, the sheen of red satin, the rustle of matte brown taffeta, and the supple drape of black crepe" to evoke a constantly changing sensory experience as the wearer moves.
In defiance of any convention, the pointed front skirt panels fold over to form hip wings before meeting at the center back waist. Likewise, the bodice back becomes shoulder straps that meet at the center front bodice. James designed this dress for style icon Millicent Rogers, who was one of his most stylistically adventurous clients.
Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art