clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Inside the Anna Wintour Costume Center's Charles James Exhibit

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

This afternoon, following a ribbon cutting ceremony with Michelle Obama, the Metropolitan Museum of Art held a press preview for the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition—the first to be held at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center. As anticipated, it's gorgeous, which was made very clear a few months back at the very first unveiling.

The exhibit is the first solo designer show since McQueen's Savage Beauty, and it's also the first to be split between two locations within the museum. The first half is inside the Costume Center; the second half is within the special exhibition galleries on the first floor.

Since no one but press was allowed into the museum during the preview, it felt straight-up magical to travel between both parts of the exhibit, through totally empty rooms of ancient art, but this won't really be that fun on a busy weekend.

Though it doesn't take away from the exhibit, the fact that it's housed in two separate areas that aren't really near each other did feel a bit strange, and it's a little hard to keep the mood. Also, if you're not paying attention to the signs, you might think that there's only one part to view.

The first half at the Costume Center highlights several displays of gowns and eveningwear, plus tailored pieces like suits and outerwear. All of the clothing are broken down into four categories: Spirals & Wraps; Drapes & Folds; Platonic Form; and Anatomical Cut.

Near the jackets is a quote from James (these are scattered throughout the show) reads: "You should know that my most important contribution was always in tailoring; coats, jackets, wool dresses… so few of which went into the magazines."

As the show continues, a separate room off to the side is filled with glimpses into the designer's creative process—notes, dress forms, sketches, and a lot more. There's a scrapbook with photos from Bill Cunningham, and a list of people James "would have liked to dress... sometimes could have but did not." That includes Mick Jagger ("Sexy bastard"); David Bowie ("Androgynously beautiful"); and Lou Reed ("Perverse, charming and sings and moves like a poem").

What comes next is the second half of the exhibit located inside the special galleries. The focus here: gowns, gowns, and gowns. In the dramatically dark room, each dress is displayed on its own pedestal under a spotlight, with a separate roving spotlight and a computerized screen that details structural facts about each dress.

As the small spotlight moves around each dress, information on that exact part is displayed on the screen. It's like you're peeling back the layers of each gown and figuring out what's inside.

Overall, approximately 65 of his most "notable" designs are on view, spanning his entire career (from the 1920s to his death in '78.) The exhibit will open to the public on Thursday, May 8th and will run through August 10th. Don't wait until the last few days to make it uptown.
· Get Excited: The Charles James Exhibition Debuts in a Week [Racked NY]
· Who's Dressing Lupita Nyong'o, and Other Crucial Met Ball Stats [Racked NY]
· Preview the Anna Wintour Costume Center's Inaugural Show [Racked NY]

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

1000 5th Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10028 (212) 535-7710 Visit Website