I popped uptown yesterday to the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute’s new Anna Wintour Costume Center for the press preview of its first exhibition, Charles James: Beyond Fashion spotlighting the career of the legendary 20th-century Anglo-American couturier (1906–1978).
Through the years, I’ve seen pieces of James work and many of the gowns on display seemed like beautiful old friends that I was delighted to reaquaint with.
But it wasn’t a gown that made me smile.
It was seeing his white celenese satin jacket with eiderdown filling, 1937, a textile based sculpture in response to the boxy fur jackets that designer Elsa Schiaparelli was showing and what many women wore at the time.
Love it or leave it, this is probably the first down jacket and the precursor to the puffer coats that we wear today.
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For a bit of historical fashion reference to Charles James known for creating “sculptural, scientific, and mathematical approaches to construct revolutionary ball gowns and innovative tailoring that continue to influence designers today,” James arrived in New York City in 1940 after designing in his native London, and then Paris. Noted by the Metropolitan Museum, though he had no formal training, he is now regarded as one of the greatest designers in America to have worked in the tradition of the Haute Couture.
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His fascination with complex cut and seaming led to the creation of key design elements that he updated throughout his career: wrap-over trousers, figure-eight skirts, body-hugging sheaths, ribbon capes and dresses, spiral-cut garments, and poufs.
These, along with his iconic ball gowns from the late 1940s and early 1950s—the “Four-Leaf Clover,” “Butterfly,” “Tree,” “Swan,” and “Diamond”—are showcased in the exhibition. Archival pieces including sketches, pattern pieces, swatches, ephemera, and partially completed works from his last studio in New York City’s Chelsea Hotel are also on display.
The Met exhibition includes approximately seventy-five of James’s most notable designs presented in two locations at the museum—the new Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery in the Anna Wintour Costume Center as well as special exhibition galleries on the Museum’s first floor.
Video animations in both exhibition locations illustrate how Charles James created anatomically considered dresses that sculpted and reconfigured the female form
May 8 – August 10, 2014
CHARLES JAMES: Beyond Fashion
Anna Wintour Costume Center
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, New York, NY 10028
Exhibition Website: Charles James Beyond Fashion