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Charles James at the Met

Posted by Betsy C on

After the buzz and hoopla surrounding the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition of Charles James slowly diminished, the celebrity opening came and went and the throngs of people that had to be the first to see it slowed to just a normal crowd, it was my turn to check it out.
Part one: the search begins
I took full advantage last week battling the crowds and wandering the halls of the Met in search of the elusive exhibit, interrogating security guards along my way, questioning why there was no signage, as if it were there jobs. I finally made it to the newly renovated fashion exhibition basement space and entered the dimly lit room where numerous garments were on full display and all of the details were up close and personal.

This is a two part exhibition, and personally the basement section was the most intriguing for me as it had a few day wear pieces as in suits and jackets. Frothy and sculpted gowns are beautiful, but for me the true mark of a designer is how they can take their ideas and pare them down to something understandable and functional, but still maintaining their vision and originality. Great design should be functional.

Part Two: the hunt continues

Now if you have ever been to the Met, it is freaking huge! I have been many, many, many times and I still get lost because, once again, the Met is not big on signage and as an impatient New Yorker with only a small window of time available, this grinds on me. Anyway, I digress…..Well, I wandered for a bit trying to find part two, but once I did it was well Worth it. I entered the darkened gallery and was greeted by a display Charles James muslins. For me, this was the holy grail. Muslin is a dirty word for a lot of sewers, but during the production process this is a vital part. It speaks to the process and difficulties, problems encountered and the motivations behind designs. in garment development this is equivalent to a physicists chalkboard.

Enough with my ramblings, on to the oohs and ahhs.


Enter into a large dark room containing about 20 gowns, each on a pedestal with a camera that would capture details projected onto a screen below and then would then break down the construction and pattern shape to a digital rendering.

Apologies for the grainy photos as this was a moving image on a television screen.

This rendering showed the structural construction for the lampshade evening dress.

It was a fascinating take, but for a dork like me, I really wanted to see the nuts and bolts of how his gowns were made and constructed together- like how the boning structures were held together and the stitching that held them in place. The one display that allowed a peek under the skirts was not quite enough for me (fashion voyeur). However, overall it was truly enlightening to see these three dimensional wonders that meld fashion and architecture, live and in person. If you are in NYC definitely check it out. However, if you can’t make it, I hope you enjoy my photos and find some inspiration and appreciation for a master of American Couture.

Now my photos are pretty crappy and I am not going to give you the full bio and scholarly intent of Charles James as I there are others that put it more eloquently than myself. If you want to learn more check out


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