Monday, May 12, 2014


“Cut in dressmaking is like grammar in a language. A good design should be like a well made sentence, and it should only express one idea at a time.” – Charles James. (Mirrored walls tagged with James’s quotes create an infinity repeat surrounding the sea of silk and velvet)
CHARLES JAMES BEYOND FASHION and the New ANNA WINTOUR COSTUME CENTER: “Charles James considered himself an artist, and approached fashion with a sculptor’s eye and a scientist’s logic,” said Thomas Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He described the Costume Institute as “a forum to explore not just what we wear but what this medium can evoke.”
   The exhibition is presented in two locations--the new Anna Wintour Costume Center as well as special exhibition galleries on the Museum’s first floor. The retrospective of the Anglo-American couturier Charles James focuses specifically on his use of sculptural, scientific and mathematical approaches to construct revolutionary ball gowns. It is interesting to note that James’s innovative tailoring continues to influence designers even today.
   The exhibition features 65 of the most notable designs James produced over the course of his career from the 1920s to his death in 1978. The expansive main gallery features 15 dramatically lit James gowns including the “Clover Leaf,” “Butterfly,” “Tree,” and “Swan.” The dresses float on circular platforms with dramatic front views, while from behind they are analyzed on platform-mounted projection screens with rolling content designed by DS+R. Programmed light projectors with pan/tilt heads and robotic boom arms
direct the visitor to the area of the gown the digital content explores. "To dissect a James gown is to reveal more fully the complete originality and virtuosity of its maker." (Mirrored wall text)
   Descending the steps to the new Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery, visitors view a portrait of the designer and hear his voice. A pathway leads around a cruciform platform where the evolution and metamorphosis of James’s day and evening wear are explored. The socialites of the era such as Babe Paley were his clients as were Millicent Rogers and New York celebrities.
   The designer’s incredible creativity was matched only by his tempestuous personality, which is not evident in the gorgeous clothes and gowns he designed, but legend has it that James tried the patience of even his closest friends, not to mention his clients. Fashionistas are flocking to the galleries which opened May 8, but there is plenty of time to view the exhibition which runs through August 10, 2014. Students of architectural design would also do well to study and investigate James’ structural, sculpted process.
   In the Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery, step into a more intimate setting wherein pieces of James’s person archive are on display--- dress forms, jewelry maquettes, scrapbooks and accessories, including hats representing James’s early work as a milliner. A white satin eiderdown evening jacket, widely regarded
as the first puffer coats, sit in the center
   The brilliance of his creations that defined nighttime elegance in the twentieth century has never been more illustrated than in Cecil Beaton’s famous 1948 group portrait of eight models in James’s grand, sculptural dresses (pictured above) One may wonder why James’s acquired the reputation as a visionary only to realize that he was the first to use spiral draping, with and without zippers; to make coats entirely out of the grosgrain ribbons; to use dozens of fresh flowers as adornment, a to dream up the quilted jacket in white satin filled with eiderdown, in 1937.
   Halston was his protégé and admirer as were other designers in the trade who imaged to emulate his style. It is sad to know that his impoverished death took place in New York’s Chelsea Hotel in 1978.
   The James legend goes on: Bergdorf Goodman has commissioned seven designers to create James-inspired pieces that are now on view in its windows. Giambattista Valli, Libertine, Mary Katrantzou, Ralph Rucci, Rodarte, Rosie Assoulin and Naeem Kahn have each provided one-of-a-kind looks which are being sold for $3,500 to $14,000.
Ta Ta Darlings!!! Pollytalk went to the Charles James press opening on May 4 and was taken by the fascinating mirrored walls with James’ quotes…do make note of these gems of wisdom by the great designer himself. Fan mail welcome at pollytalk@verizon. Visit Polly’s website pollytalk and in the left hand column click on my other Blogs on fashion, visionary men and hidden treasures in New York.

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