'Charles James: Beyond Fashion' at the Metropolitan Museum

Although Charles James had no formal training, he is regarded as one of the greatest designers in America to have worked in the tradition of the Haute Couture. "Charles James: Beyond Fashion," on view at the Metropolitan Museum, examines the career of the legendary 20th-century Anglo-American couturier Charles James (1906–1978), who left London and arrived in New York City in 1940. 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 are showcased along with his iconic ball gowns from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Harold Koda, Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute, and Jan Reeder, Consulting Curator for the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, discuss the exhibition, on view through August 10, 2014.

Charles James Ball Gowns, 1948.
Charles James Ball Gowns, 1948. ( Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Cecil Beaton, Beaton / Vogue / Condé Nast Archive. Copyright © Condé Nast )
Charles James with Model, 1948
Charles James with Model, 1948 ( Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Cecil Beaton, Beaton / Vogue / Condé Nast Archive. Copyright © Condé Nast )
Nancy James in Charles James Swan Gown, 1955
Nancy James in Charles James Swan Gown, 1955 ( Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Cecil Beaton, The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby's )
Austine Hearst in Charles James Clover Leaf Gown, ca. 1953
Austine Hearst in Charles James Clover Leaf Gown, ca. 1953 ( Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photographer Unknown, © Bettmann/CORBIS )
Babe Paley in Charles James Gown, 1950
Babe Paley in Charles James Gown, 1950 ( Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by John Rawlings, Rawlings / Vogue / Condé Nast Archive. Copyright © Condé Nast )
Charles James, 1952
Charles James, 1952 ( Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Michael A. Vaccaro / LOOK Magazine Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Look Job 52-1129 Frame-18 )
Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978), “Butterfly” Ball Gown, ca. 1955
Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978), “Butterfly” Ball Gown, ca. 1955

Brown silk chiffon, cream silk satin, brown silk satin, dark brown nylon tulle
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Friends of The Costume Institute Fund, 2013 (2013.591)

( Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Karin Willis )
Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978), Ball Gown, 1949-50
Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978), Ball Gown, 1949-50

Red silk velvet, red silk satin, white cotton organdy
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Arturo and Paul Peralta-Ramos, 1954 (2009.300.2786)

( Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Karin Willis )
Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978), “Clover Leaf” Evening Dress, 1953
Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978), “Clover Leaf” Evening Dress, 1953

White silk satin, white silk faille, black silk-rayon velvet
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Elizabeth Fairall, 1953 (C.I.53.73)

( Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Karin Willis )
Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978), Evening Dress, 1948
Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978), Evening Dress, 1948

Black silk satin and black silk velvet
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Millicent Huttleston Rogers, 1949 (2009.300.734)

( Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Karin Willis )
Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978), “Taxi” Dress, ca. 1932
Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978), “Taxi” Dress, ca. 1932

Black wool ribbed knit
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Alan W. Kornberg Gift, 2013 (2013.309)

( Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Karin Willis )
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