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The Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition opens at the Met Museum

Photo of Stairwell Image of James James, by Michael A. Vaccaro, 1952 at the entrance to the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.
Michael A. Vaccaro, 1952

The Costume Institute's new Anna Wintour Costume Center opened on May 8 with the inaugural exhibition Charles James: Beyond Fashion, on view from May 8 through August 10, 2014. The retrospective exhibition, spanning two separate locations in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, features approximately 65 of the most notable designs Charles James produced during his career from the 1920s to his death in 1978. James' innovative designs were praised by his contemporaries such as Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli, Cristobal Balenciaga and others. The British born designer went on to become one of the best American couturiers; and introduced the world to the strapless dress, wrap dress, and the made the precursor to the down-coat.

Charles James' ball gowns are his most famous and exceptional designs. Fifteen of them are presented as though are they floating sculptures, in the Met's First Floor Special Exhibitions Galleries. The amazing "Tree Ball Gown", "Swan Ball Gown", "Clover Leaf" and "Butterfly Ball Gowns" are showcased in a darkened gallery with reflective mirrors and quotes from the designer. Each gown stands atop a circular platform where they can be viewed and admired from 360 degrees. Platform-mounted projection screens with rolling content designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) are positioned behind the gowns for visitors to view x-rays of each gown, and vintages images telling the story of each dress.

The new Anna Wintour Costume Center, lead by Met Trustee Anna Wintour, the Artistic Director of Condé Nast and Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, contains the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery and the Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery, among other departments. These two galleries explore the span of Charles James' career. In the 4,200 square foot Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery, James' day and evening wear is divided into four categories: Spirals & Wraps, Drapes & Folds, Platonic Form, and Anatomical Cut. Vivid colors, crisp lines, elegant silhouettes and flattering folds are the design features that stand out most. The 500 square foot Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery contains the timeless "Evening Coat" from 1947, as well as hats from the beginning of the designers career as a milliner. Drawings, photographs and newspaper clippings are also featured in this gallery.

Even today, young fashion designers, such as those from Maxwell High School pay tribute to life and work of Charles James. Please click on link to view more images from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition.

Swan Ballgown
Swan Ballgown Photo: Shawn Punch

Swan Ballgown

Image of Sawn Ballgown from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

Butterfly Ball Gown
Butterfly Ball Gown Photo: Shawn Punch

Butterfly Ball Gown

Image of Butterfly Ball Gown, from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

Tree Ball Gown
Tree Ball Gown Photo: Shawn Punch

Tree Ball Gown

Image of the Tree Ball Gown, 1955, from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

Clover Leaf Ball Gown
Clover Leaf Ball Gown Photo: Shawn Punch

Clover Leaf Ball Gown

Image of Clover Leaf Ball Gown, 1953, from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

Umbrella Evening Dress
Umbrella Evening Dress Photo: Shawn Punch

Umbrella Evening Dress

Image of Umbrella Evening Dress, 1938, from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

Red and white ball gown
Red and white ball gown Photo: Shawn Punch

Red and white ball gown

Image of ball gowns from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

Black ball gown
Black ball gown Photo: Shawn Punch

Black ball gown

Image of ball gowns from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

Charles James ball gown
Charles James ball gown Photo: Shawn Punch

Charles James ball gown

Image of ball gowns from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

Butterfly Sofa and Muslins
Butterfly Sofa and Muslins Photo: Shawn Punch

Butterfly Sofa and Muslins

Image of Butterfly Sofa, 1976 and Muslins from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

Taxi Dress
Taxi Dress Photo: Shawn Punch

Taxi Dress

Image Taxi Dress from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

Dinner dress
Dinner dress Photo: Shawn Punch

Dinner dress

Image of Dinner Dress, 1950 (left) from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

Evening Coat
Evening Coat Photo: Shawn Punch

Evening Coat

Image of Evening Coat, 1947, from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

La Sirene Evening Dress
La Sirene Evening Dress Photo: Shawn Punch

La Sirene Evening Dress

Image of La Sirene Evening Dress 1951-52, from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

Charles James Dresses
Charles James Dresses Photo: Shawn Punch

Charles James Dresses

Image of dresses from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

Lyre Coat
Lyre Coat Photo: Shawn Punch

Lyre Coat

Image of Lyre Coat, 1945, from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

Dolman Coat
Dolman Coat Photo: Shawn Punch

Dolman Coat

Image of Dolman Coat, early 1950s, from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitian Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

Bluebell Coat
Bluebell Coat Photo: Shawn Punch

Bluebell Coat

Image of Bluebell Coat, 1954, from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

Evening Jacket
Evening Jacket Photo: Shawn Punch

Evening Jacket

Image of Evening jacket, 1937, from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

Infant's Cape Coat
Infant's Cape Coat Photo: Shawn Punch

Infant's Cape Coat

Image of Brassiere, 1956, Infant’s Cape Coat, 1956 and other items from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.

Charles James hats
Charles James hats Photo: Shawn Punch

Charles James hats

Image of hats from the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 5, 2014.