Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the Met Museum’s Costume Institute opens tomorrow, May 8, and will be on view from May 8 - Aug 10, 2014. Officially opening the Anna Wintour Costume Center, the inaugural exhibition covers the career of American couturier Charles James (1906-1978) and is presented in two separate locations - the new Anna Wintour Costume Center (AWCC) as well as galleries on the Museum’s first floor. First Lady Michelle Obama cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony on May 5, press preview day.
James’s dedication to fashion as an art form is evident in his complex, innovative construction. Garments on view span his career from the late 1920s to 1978, with most pieces being from 1932-1960. Probably best known for his sculptural ballgowns of the late 1940s - early 50s, the main floor gallery is dedicated solely to showcasing his 15 most iconic gowns, including the ‘Clover Leaf’, ‘Butterfly’, ‘Tree’, and ‘Swan’.
I was surprised to discover that James himself felt his “most important design contribution was his tailoring, most of which did not make it into the magazines”. The AWCC features his coats, suits, day dresses, and additional gowns.
The exhibition explores James’s design process, specifically his use of sculptural, scientific, and mathematical approaches. There’s also a modern technical aspect to the exhibit. Video animation explanations are shown on monitors, to help tell the story of each gown’s intricate construction and history, including vintage images. Programmed light projectors with robotic boom arms are next to many of the garments. They direct the visitor’s eye to the area of the gown the digital content explores. Live-feed cameras detailing the backs of garments are projected on the walls.
I did love the ephemera/ memorabilia room, especially seeing original drawings, and press clippings which included illustrations by famed fashion illustrator Antonio.
For exhibition hours and further info, see <met museum.org>. Companion book is available there also.
photos: Michele K., plus images courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art