Charles James Takes Over the Met’s Costume Institute


After a fun and festive season of Punk, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is turning to America’s best-known couturier Charles James for its next Costume Institute exhibit.

“Charles James: Beyond Fashion” will highlight his most well-known sculptural silhouettes, featuring over 100 pieces including his iconic Four Leaf Clover; the Butterfly, Tree, Swan, and Diamond ball gowns; and his taxi dress. “He had this funny idea that woman who wanted to dress and undress in a taxi could spiral out of this dress, and put on another dress,” Harold Koda, curator in charge of the Costume Institute, told Women’s Wear Daily.

Though the title of the exhibition can seem intimidating to the industry, it was taken from James’ own tentative title for his autobiography. “Because he felt that the research — studies of anatomy, the way he resolved sculptural shapes with his tailoring and ball gowns — was something that transcended trends and fashion,” Koda said, “he wanted to use fashion and push fashion even further than what it was as a commercial enterprise.”

The Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery exhibit will take guests through James’ career from dressing the likes of Millicent Rogers, Austine Heasrt, and Dominique de Menil to his friendship with famed photographer Cecil Beaton. “[The images] could be constructed like a [Christian] Dior or a [Jacques] Fath, but when you are able to see the actual garment, you realize how individual his approach to design was, and that’s what we want to achieve,” Koda noted. “Even in the upstairs space, where there will be this blowout of glamour, we want to underscore this with the sense of James as a student of the cloth and the metier of fashion, pushing it and pushing it, and really establishing a vocabulary that never preceded or followed him.”

Aerin by Aerin Lauder will underwrite the exhibit along with Condé Nast. Lauder will serve as the Met Gala’s chair with Bradley Cooper, Oscar de la Renta, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch, and, of course Anna Wintour as co-chairs for the event. “[The Met] really is a treasure,” Lauder mused. “It combines the idea of fashion and art, which are two areas I am completely passionate about, both personally and professionally. Charles James in particular is so iconic, so elegant, so timely; it’s a wonderful person for them to represent during the relaunch of the Costume Institute.”

Though we wish more notables would have embraced punk this year, many more celebs will jump on board for next year’s gala theme with a slew of sculptural gowns and a sense of architecture on the red carpet.