POPSUGAR Fashion

A Grand Look Inside the Costume Institute's Charles James Exhibit

Aug 10 2014 - 6:00am

If you didn't manage to head over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, you missed one of the year's biggest fashion exhibits – Charles James: Beyond Fashion, the inaugural showcase of the brand-new Anna Wintour Costume Center, closed its doors on Aug. 10 – three months after its arrival. But don't stress: we've got all the must-see highlights right here.

The decidedly un-punk exhibit [1] pays proper respect to the legendary career of Anglo-American designer Charles James [2], who might not be a household name . . . yet. Through more than 100 pieces, the museum examines his design process — specifically his use of sculptural, scientific, and mathematical approaches and innovative tailoring to construct revolutionary ball gowns.

So, while the star-studded Met Gala [3] that marked the exhibit's arrival was all about celebrities in modern-day versions of high-society dressing, what awaited them at the top of that grand staircase was a look back at the work of a man who continues to influence fashion today.

Now, take a sneak peek inside as we walk you through some highlights from the exhibit before it closes.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [4]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

The expansive main gallery features 15 dramatically lit iconic James gowns from the 1940s and '50s. The dresses float on circular platforms with dramatic front views, while from behind they are analyzed on platform-mounted projection screens.

Merging history and state-of-the-art technology, moving light projectors direct the visitor's eye to the different areas of the gown that the digital content explores. Analytical animations, x-rays, and vintage images tell the story of each gown’s intricate construction and history.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [5]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

The corset-like bodice and asymmetrical apron wrap over pleated ruffles are reminiscent of late Victorian bustle dresses, a common theme in James's work. Although the museum can't confirm the anecdote, James often described a fashion show finale in which eight clients who owned this gown paraded down the runway on the arms of tuxedoed escorts carrying bouquets of roses!

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [6]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

A photograph of Babe Paley in the gown in 1950.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [7]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

Shortly after Georgia O'Keeffe's sexually infused art was featured in a retrospective, James created this design, which "merged his passions for historical styles and erotic sartorial markers," according to the museum. "The shawled overskirt frames the cascade of drapery on the underskirt in an O’Keeffe-like allusion to the primary site of feminine sexuality and procreation."

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

A 1948 photo of James with a model, taken by close friend Cecil Beaton.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [8]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

For the caterpillar-to-butterfly effect of this gown, James exaggerated the torso length of the sheath with "the highest bustline in 125 years" and layered transparent tulle in unexpected colors to accrue depth and iridescent shimmer to the surrogate wings.

The owner of this dress purchased it at Lord & Taylor [9] for $1,250, the equivalent of $12,000 today. "It was, according to her recollection, surprisingly comfortable to wear despite its eight-pound weight and posterior amplitude," the museum notes.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [10]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

A photograph of a model wearing the butterfly gown in 1954.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [11]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

James's innate sense of grandeur was in full effect when he designed this voluminous dress. "An aesthetic and technical masterwork, it weighs 10 pounds, yet the skirt is comfortably balanced on the hips and calibrated to move with a gentle sway as the wearer walks," the museum notes. James made six clover leaf gowns in this black-and-white abstract design.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [12]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

A photograph of Austine Hearst, the wife of William Randolph Hearst Jr., in the clover leaf gown at the coronation of Elizabeth II in London in 1953.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [13]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

The clover leaf gown on display.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [14]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

This 1955 photograph of Nancy James shows her in James's famed — and quite literal — swan dress. According to the museum, "the beautiful curvature of the bodice back is signature James anatomical styling designed to displace extra flesh that might ruin the graceful line."

He used transparent chiffon and stiff nylon tulle, a relatively new textile innovation for the time. The skirt's six layers, composed of 1,080 square feet of tulle, are combined in various colors to offer a luminous effect. Despite its ethereal appearance, it is, at 12 pounds, the weightiest of his grand creations.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [15]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

A famous photograph of James's ball gowns at work, taken by Cecil Beaton.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [16]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

Mrs. Ronald Tree, for whom this dark pink silk taffeta dress was designed was "a large woman," according to James in a letter. He set out to "reduce a very substantial bust and create a hollow rib cage" by creating loosely pleated drapery that required tension from the wearer's body to avoid appearing "commonplace." This hidden refinement was revealed only with movement.

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

James designed this romantic, custom iteration of the black-and-white abstract clover leaf gown for Josephine Abercrombie, the only child of a millionaire Texas industrialist. The incredibly intricate and time-consuming techniques used to cut out and float the lace over the skirt demonstrate the importance the client placed on having a bespoke showstopper.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [17]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

On this one-of-a-kind clover leaf gown, the placement of the lace on the back bodice so that it "frames the erogenous zone above the buttocks" and the unexpected color combination of shell-pink silk faille with copper silk shantung are signature James characteristics.

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

This famous photo of James marks the entrance to the Anna Wintour Costume Center. As visitors descend the steps toward this exhibit space, they are treated to a recording of his voice.

In the photo, James is pictured with a dress form he developed to update the fashion industry's outdated version. His originated from the belief that the standard forms "contributed to the bad fit of Seventh Avenue clothes," according to the museum. The new form reflected the slender long-waisted silhouettes of Millicent Rogers and Jennifer Jones.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [18]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

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 [19]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

James posed a challenge to himself to create this dress — and the adjacent gown and ribbon cape — using lengths of 6 1⁄2-inch-wide antique silk ribbons. The vertical edges of the ribbons, cut to follow the contours of the body, generate the dress's fit, and additional pieces at the bottom of each ribbon are folded into points to create decorative flares at the hem.

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

Another look at the display of James's famous ribbon gowns. Throughout the exhibit, mirrored walls are tagged with famous James quotes.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [20]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

This black satin and velvet evening gown from 1948 showcases the many drapes and folds that have come to symbolize James's couture-like techniques.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [21]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

Several of James's shorter coat dresses are on display aside a monitor showcasing the construction of the designer's figure-eight dress, a concept that introduced both modesty and freedom of movement into eveningwear.

Allegedly, James first conceived it by cutting a crescent shape in the center of the long end of a beach towel, centering it between the legs, and wrapping them in the form of a figure eight. In this more resolved version, the two sides of the fabric wrap counterclockwise around the body, causing the hem to form a figure eight.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [22]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

The exhibit features a room with a picture rail displaying drawings, pattern pieces, and journal entries. A shelf displays dress forms, jewelry maquettes, scrapbooks, and accessories — including hats representing James's early work as a milliner — and other materials from his personal archives. A white satin eiderdown evening jacket, widely regarded as the first puffer coat, sits in the center of the room.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [23]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

In a divergent turn from his more opulent ball gowns, James is also known for creating this taxi dress, which was an ahead-of-its-time version of the iconic wrap dress. He created it with the thought that the wearer could put it on and take it off in the back of a taxi cab.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [24]

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

James designed refined coats and capes with the same passion as gowns. This set on display features a red and black wool plaid topper.

Charles James: Beyond Fashion

An early photo of James, in 1936, taken by Cecil Beaton.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art [25]


Source URL
http://www.fabsugar.com/Charles-James-Beyond-Fashion-Exhibition-Pictures-34706194