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.