Costume Institute’s Charles James Exhibition and New Anna Wintour Costume Center Open at Met on May 8

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I know I keep giving you reasons to dash over to The Met… and here is another, opening tomorrow:

Costume Institute’s Charles James Exhibition and
New Anna Wintour Costume Center Open at Met on May 8

The Costume Institute’s new Anna Wintour Costume Center will open on May 8 with the inaugural exhibition Charles James: Beyond Fashion, on view from May 8 through August 10, 2014, which will examine the career of legendary 20th-century Anglo- American couturier Charles James (1906–1978). The exhibition will be presented in two locations–the new Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery in the Anna Wintour Costume Center as well as special exhibition galleries on the Museum’s first floor. The exhibition will explore James’s design process and his use of sculptural, scientific, and mathematical approaches to construct revolutionary ball gowns and innovative tailoring that continue to influence designers today.

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“Charles James considered himself an artist, and approached fashion with a sculptor’s eye and a scientist’s logic,” said Mr. Campbell. “As such, the Met is the ideal place to explore the rich complexity of his innovative work.”

“Charles James was a wildly idiosyncratic, emotionally fraught fashion genius who was also committed to teaching,” said Harold Koda, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute. “He dreamt that his lifetime of personal creative evolution and the continuous metamorphosis of his designs would be preserved as a study resource for students. In our renovated galleries, we will fulfill his goal and illuminate his design process as a synthesis of dressmaking, art, math, and science.”

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Exhibition Overview:
The retrospective exhibition, Charles James: Beyond Fashion, will feature approximately 75 of the most notable designs produced by James over the course of his career, from the 1920s until his death in 1978. The first-floor special exhibition galleries will spotlight the resplendent glamour and breathtaking architecture of James’s ball gowns from the 1940s through 1950s, worn by such renowned clients as Austine Hearst, Millicent Rogers, and Dominique de Menil.

The new Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery will provide the technology and flexibility to dramatize James’s biography via archival pieces including sketches, pattern pieces,swatches, ephemera, and partially completed works from his last studio in New York City’s Chelsea Hotel. The evolution and metamorphosis by James of specific designs over decades will also be shown. Video animations in both exhibition locations will illustrate how he created anatomically considered dresses that sculpted and reconfigured the female form.

“James was an artist who chose fabric and its relationship to the human body as his medium of expression,” said Jan Glier Reeder, Consulting Curator in The Costume Institute, who is organizing the exhibition with Harold Koda. “In fact, a devoted James client once said, ‘…his work went beyond fashion and was a fine art.’”

Beyond Fashion was also the title James chose for the autobiography he never wrote.

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James was so keen to ensure his legacy by preserving the “corpus” of his work in one institution that he persuaded important clients to donate his designs to the Brooklyn Museum. The transfer of the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection to the Metropolitan Museum in 2009 augmented the Met’s Charles James holdings, and with recent acquisitions of early designs and archives, the Museum now has the most definitive body of James’s work in the world, and the most comprehensive collection of a fashion designer’s work of any museum.

After designing in his native London, and then Paris, James arrived in New York City in 1940. Though he had no formal training, he is arguably one of the greatest designers to have worked in the tradition of the haute couture in America. His fascination with complex cut and seaming led to the creation of key design elements that he updated throughout his career: wrap-over trousers, figure-eight skirts, body-hugging sheaths, ribbon capes and dresses, spiral-cut garments, and poufs. These, along with his iconic ball gowns from the late 1940s and early 1950s–the “Clover Leaf,” “Butterfly,” “Tree,”, “Swan,” and “Diamond”–will be showcased in the exhibition.

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A book, Charles James: Beyond Fashion, by Harold Koda and Jan Glier Reeder with a preface by Ralph Rucci and contributions by Costume Institute Conservators Sarah Scaturro and Glenn Petersen, will accompany the exhibition. This publication will be illustrated with new photography of James designs, including details highlighting the materials, construction, and conservation of the pieces, as well as rarely seen vintage photographs from the designer’s archive. Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the $50 catalogue (hardcover only) has 264 pages and 330 color illustrations. It will be distributed by Yale University Press and available in early May.

Anna Wintour Costume Center
May 2014 will mark the opening of the Anna Wintour Costume Center space after an overall two-year renovation, reconfiguration, and updating. The 4,200-square-foot main Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery will feature a flexible design that lends itself to frequent transformation, a zonal sound system, innovative projection technology, and wireless connectivity.

Recommended Admission
(Admission at the main building includes same-week admission to The Cloisters)

Adults $25.00, seniors (65 and over) $17.00, students $12.00

Express admission may be purchased in advance at For More Information (212) 535-7710;

10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m. 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.


  1. I just read about this exhibit in W magazine, sounds divine. Ahhh, the days when a dress was a DRESS!

  2. Wonderful post Courtney! Wish I could make it there.

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