Charles James: Beyond Fashion

Posted on | May 19, 2014 | 1 Comment


“Cut in dressmaking is like grammar in a language. A good design should be like a well made sentence, and it should only express one idea at a time” – Charles James


This weekend, I went to the newly opened costume exhibit at the MET, Charles James: Beyond Fashion. I will start off by saying that if you live in, near, or can visit NYC before August 10th and are interested in, design, or wear clothes (in other words everyone!), you really should set aside some time to see this inspiring exhibit.

It was probably the best costume exhibit I’ve seen at the MET in the last 10 years. Yes, there have been some interesting ones: Chanel, Punk, English something or other, but Charles James is what fashion is all about. He constructed his clothes with the mind of an engineer and artist, and took as much time as he wanted to do so.

The exhibit was set up fairy simply in the newly named Anna Wintour Costume Center. The clothing felt very accessible, making it fairly easy to see almost every seam. It’s a far cry from the past exhibits in the costume center with all of the clothing behind glass, somewhat off the ground, and what felt like so far away.


There were also drawings, scrap books, and dress forms on display. Did you know James came up with a modernized dress form that allowed for movement so fit could be improved?


The exhibit then continues in a special gallery space on the first floor. This is where his more famous dress creations are displayed. The Clover Dress, Lampshade Dress, and Umbrella dress were all there and accompanied by some high tech gadgets (one camera even went up inside the skirt of a gown!) to give us a seldom seen look inside how these masterpieces were made.

Personally, the high tech element is what made the exhibit for me as a designer. While its nice to look at pretty dresses all day long, seeing how they are made provides a whole other appreciation for James’ genius along with an education. I have the feeling I might be making a second trip sometime soon.


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  • Kathleen

    Loved it and am looking forward to taking my girls back next week. My favorite show ever there was the McQueen but this is very, very good. It’s nice to be back in the costume institute space, and the dresses on display on the first floor are done so nicely. Love going up the skirt of the Swan (so cheeky).