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Charles James: Beyond Fashion


I recently spent a fascinating couple of hours with my daughter Sara at the MET viewing the fantastic, and devastatingly beautiful, clothing designs of Anglo-American fashion icon, Charles James.

The exhibition “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” explores James’ design process and use of sculptural, scientific, and mathematical approaches used in his construction of revolutionary ball gowns and innovative tailoring that continue to influence the designers of today. The retrospective exhibition features approximately 75 of James’ most notable designs produced throughout the course of his career, from the 1920s until his death in 1978.

Once myself a student of fashion, I loved the drape of the cloth and the way in which his designs skimmed a woman’s body just so. As an interior designer, I loved the mathematical precision he used to create designs that defied gravity, and at times too, common sense.

The exhibition’s attention to detail was impeccable. James’ biography was dramatized, brought to life, and given a rich texture through the inclusion of archival pieces such as sketches, pattern pieces, swatches, ephemera, and partially completed works from his last studio in New York City’s Hotel Chelsea.

Technology had an important role to play in the exhibition too. The evolution and metamorphosis of James as a designer was demonstrated through the use of video animations illustrating how he created his anatomically considered dresses that sculpted and reconfigured the female form. The utter beauty and simplicity of his designs are were mesmerizing, and the computer-aided side stories allowed us to see inside the mind of a genius as a created each of the stunning gowns on display.

We even spied Diane Keaton enjoying the exhibition along side other devotees, both young and old. The exhibit closes August 10 and is not to be missed!

"Cut in dressmaking is like grammar in language. A good design should be like a well made sentence, and it should only express one idea at a time." - Charles James

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