UPPER EAST SIDE — The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute reopens this week after a $40 million redesign with an exhibit one of America’s best-known couturiers.
James — who was originally from England but did the bulk of his work in New York City — was best known for dramatic, structural ball gowns and unique tailoring methods that still influence design today, according to the museum.
“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, in a statement. “As such, the Met is the ideal place to explore the rich complexity of his innovative work.”
The exhibit will feature 65 of James’ most notable designs spanning his career from the 1920s until his death in 1978.
Some of his most iconic haute couture designs include the “Clover Leaf “and “Butterfly” gowns, Met officials said. He is also known for the more casual "Taxi Dress," named because the simple, wrap–like design was so easy to wear it could be slipped off or on in the back of a cab. James is also widely credited with creating the first puffer coat. His white satin and eiderdown version of the now-ubiquitous winter piece will also be on display.
The exhibit will focus not only on the fashion, but also on James’s design process, in which he incorporated math and science to create sculptural pieces. High-tech tools including X-ray and video animations will help viewers understand how each piece was designed and constructed.
The show is split between two areas of the museum, with a collection of 15 ball gowns from the 1940s and '50s on display in the Met’s Main Gallery on the first floor. Many of James’ more casual designs, as well as memorabilia from his studio, will be housed in the Costume Center.
The Met will also host special programs associated with the exhibit, including a three-session workshop on draping, darting and fitting, all specialties of James.
This is the Costume Center’s first exhibit highlighting a single designer since the wildly popular Alexander McQueen show in 2011.