The Metropolitan Museum of Art has always offered an extensive repository of apparel, textiles and accessories for fashion aficionados of every ilk. Today, the department features a 35,000 piece inventory of men's, women's and children's garments covering seven centuries, an extensive fashion library and a state-of-the-art conservation center. It is one of largest and most important collections in the world and a center for the study of fashion and costume in relation to art, history and culture.
Because of the fragile nature of textiles, there is no permanent exhibit on view. Rather, The Costume Institute presents one very special exhibition every year, timed to open with the social event of the season - the Costume Institute Gala Benefit. Since 1995 this affair has been co-chaired by Anna Wintour, a Museum trustee, the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue and a style setter extraordinaire. Invited guests are an A+++ list of stars, fashionistas and high rollers who come to see and be seen, to publicize the show and to raise a lot of money for the Museum.
This year's exhibition is dedicated to the Anglo-American designer Charles James, who, though not so well known today, was considered the king of couture in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. He is credited with the invention of the wrap dress, the strapless dress and the down-filled jacket while his ball gowns were worn by the likes of Millicent Rogers, Babe Paley and Lily Pons. Typically his designs are defined by a sculptural, almost architectural, quality that made them works of art far beyond mere dresses.
Always one small step ahead of the bill collector and sometimes in hot water with his clients for failing to deliver on time, Charles James nevertheless remained a highly sought after couturier for society ladies. The reason was simple - a Charles James gown was unlike any other and the wearer would look like a fairy tale princess.
The Met's exhibition is divided into two sections located about a
five-minute walk from each other on different floors of the Museum. I'm
going to begin on the ground floor, in the newly renovated Costume
Center, where two galleries give us an introduction to this famed
designer. The first, smaller, room is filled with patterns, press clippings, photographs, other ephemera and a few early designs including his one-of-a-kind eiderdown jacket.