Every year the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Costume Institute host a Fashion based exhibit. Some years are better than other, but I have to say that this year's presentation was exceptionally extraordinary. Charles James was a British born American couturier whose career spanned from the 1920's to the late 70's. James mastered cutting and structure in a time where ball gowns ruled the world.
The exhibition itself was quite large and was housed in two separate locations, the Costume Institute and gallery 199. My tour began downstairs in the Anna Wintour Costume Center. Immediately, you walk into a dark room full of iridescent taffeta and multiple layers of velvet. Dress forms are grouped in small clusters behind clear plexiglass walls that proudly displayed white vinyl quotes from the designer himself. As I walked the floor, I noticed that there didn't seem to be much day wear and admittedly the coats weren't my favorite. The dresses however, the dresses were amazing.
I took a minute to absorb my surroundings. There were 4 large projection screens showing detailed video James' work as well as smaller screens that told the history behind the clothes. When you looked closely, it was easy to see the detail in the draping and the contrived construction. To the right of the room stood a dress comprised of several 6 1/2 inch wide antique silk ribbons in peach, gold, and ivory. A feat that no doubt took hours and hours of construction and was magnificent in it completion. Despite the age of the designs, most of the evening wear appeared quite relevant and could easily be pictured on any modern red carpet. My favorite, a navy silk faille cocktail dress from 1953. Some pieces did veer a little towards costume, but then I thought that was okay. Fashion should serve us both in function and fantasy.
Gallery 199 was all about the ball gown. Individual dresses stood on round pedestals under spotlights, each accompanied by an informative screen linked to robotic arms fit with cameras. They carefully scanned around the garments to showcase the detail and the craftsmanship that went into the garments. Everything you needed to know about the dress was clearly displayed on the screen. The retrospective was certainly thorough and a true fusion of Fashion and technology.
Charles James may not have a widely recognizable name like some of his counterparts from his lifetime, but his work speaks for itself. The Met Museum was a spectacular choice to house a lifetime of glamour. The buildings' grandness was the perfect setting for the perfect ball gowns. I look forward to what the Costume Institute has in store next.