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- Charles James ball gowns, 1948, photographed by Cecil Beaton. This and the following images are all courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Austine Hearst in Charles James's "Clover Leaf" gown, circa 1953.
- Another look at the “Clover Leaf” gown.
- James in 1936.
- James with a model, 1948, photographed by Cecil Beaton.
- The “Taxi” dress, circa 1932.
- A 1946 evening dress.
- A ball gown from 1949-50.
- The “Butterfly” ball gown, circa 1955.
- The "Butterfly" gown on a model, photographed by Cecil Beaton.
- A 1948 evening dress from behind.
- Nancy James in James's "Swan" gown, 1955, photographed by Cecil Beaton.
This morning, the Metropolitan Museum of Art offered a teaser of its upcoming show, Charles James: Beyond Fashion, which will be the first to debut in the Anna Wintour Costume Center. The space, which up until recently was known as the Costume Institute, was recently renamed to honor Vogue's editor-in-chief, one of its principle fundraisers. The new name also signifies a new look: When the Charles James show launches on May 8, the public will finally get to see the space's $40 million redesign.
Charles James, whose career lasted from 1926 to 1978, is known for his sculptural, sweeping ball gowns, which were influential for midcentury designers. (Christian Dior called him "The greatest talent of my generation.") With its emphasis on old-fashioned glamour, this is going to be a radically different—and probably more accessible—show than Punk: Chaos to Couture, Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations, or even the museum's blockbuster Alexander McQueen exhibit.
Charles James, 1952. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
But just because it's all about straightforwardly gorgeous dresses doesn't mean there's not an intellectual underpinning. The show's promotional materials use the word "science" repeatedly. The Met's director and CEO, Thomas P. Campbell, says James "approached fashion with a sculptor's eye and a scientist's logic," while curator Harold Koda describes his work as "a synthesis of dressmaking, art, math, and science." That makes him a fitting subject for the first show in a space that's just gotten a science-obsessed makeover. Among the new features of the Costume Center:
· The 4,200-square foot Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery, a black box space that can morph completely from exhibit to exhibit, and that will use technology to showcase dress construction and other sensory details.
· A new conservation lab outfitted with equipment like a wet lab, a fume extraction unit, and microscopes, as well as extra-wide doors to fit enormous gowns.
· An up-to-date new storage system for the Costume Institute's collection, which is the largest in the world. (NB: The space is now named after Anna, but the governing organization is still known as the Costume Institute.)
Babe Paley in Charles James Gown, 1950. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photograph by John Rawlings.
All of these changes represent some major growth for the Met's fashion wing, which was last renovated in 1992. Since then, for example, the staff has more than quadrupled. And Charles James is just the beginning—moving forward, the Costume Center plans to stage two or three exhibits every year.
· Costume Institute Space at the Met Renamed for Anna Wintour [Racked NY]
· All Costume Institute coverage [Racked NY]