"Charles James: Beyond Fashion"

  • Museums
  • Fashion and costume
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Photograph: Michael A. Vaccaro; courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Charles James, 1952

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Photograph: Cecil Beaton; Beaton/Vogue/Condé Nast Archive; courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Eight models wearing Charles James gowns, in French & Company's eighteenth century French paneled room

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Photograph: Cecil Beaton; The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby's; courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Nancy James in Charles James Swan Gown, 1955

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Photograph: Cecil Beaton; The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby's; courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Charles James Butterfly Gown, 1954

The Metropolitan Museum of Art may be known for its paintings and ancient treasures, but fashion is increasingly what brings crowds to the institution. Nearly 700,000 people came to the stunning “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” retrospective in 2011, making it one of the most-visited exhibitions in the museum’s history. Last year’s “PUNK: Chaos to Couture” was a more modest success, as 450,000 people clamored to see a replica of CBGB’s grotty bathroom. With more fashion-focused visitors than ever, the timing is perfect for the museum to open its revamped Costume Institute on May 8. It’ll be bigger and better—and thanks to a particularly helpful benefactor, it’ll be known by a new moniker: the Anna Wintour Costume Center.

Yes, that Anna Wintour. Condé Nast’s artistic director is one of the Met’s biggest champions, having raised nearly $125 million for the institute and frequently organizing its annual celeb-studded Costume Institute Gala. And while it’s unlikely that the famously tough editor will get as involved with the museum’s exhibits as she does with the pages of Vogue, the first show in the new space feels particularly fitting: It’s devoted to 20th-century American designer Charles James, whose couture pieces were regularly featured in the mag (often in spreads shot by his friend, photographer Cecil Beaton). In addition to showcasing James’s exquisite gowns and tailored clothing, the retrospective will look at his creative process: The designer was a perfectionist who took inspiration from architecture and used math to create his game-changing pieces. We’re guessing Wintour herself approves.

Event phone: 212-535-7710
Event website: http://metmuseum.org

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Susan G

Wow! An exquisite exhibit. The technology to show the intricate construction was novel...and I loved seeing his original muslins and patterns too. It is weird that the exhibit is split in 2 opposite corners of the Met - signage is terrible to help you find the other half