Met Ball 2014: Look Inside The Costume Institute's Charles James Exhibit

05 May 2014 by

So you might have heard that tonight a little thing called the Met Ball is happening. If you have been anywhere near Grazia Daily over the past week you'll know that this year's exhibit is focused on the entire work of British-born designer (and Mr anti-punk) Charles James.

He might not be a household name like Yves Saint Laurent, say, but he is a hugely influential New York designer who created elegant ball gowns in the 40s and 50s. James was close friends with Cecil Beaton, was highly respected by the likes of Christian Dior and was often dubbed 'a great friend of the French couture.'

Before entering the hall of ball gowns, the attendees will see a gown made entirely of roses. Quite the entrance. Expect to see this showpiece all over Instagram - it makes the perfect selfie backdrop.

WWD had an exclusive first look at the exhibit last week, as they were giving a tour of the collection with curator Harold Koda and Jan Glier Reeder. So what is waiting for the stars at the top of the MET steps? This year's Costume Institue exhibition covers James' entire career, including a collection of 100 pieces with almost all of his major work.

First up they will see 15 spectacular gowns, which you may recognise from the iconic Cecil Beaton photographs. Think satin, tulle, bustles and bosoms. The exhibition will then use technology to explain the craft behind each dress.

Koda said to WWD: “You have this romantic view, with an analytical tool that Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed for us, with digital media analysis that conveys information, but engages you with the gown via light pointers.” Sounds clever stuff to us.


Look out for the taxi dress among the collection of ball gowns. “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,” Koda said to WWD.

The new Anna Wintour Costume Center has a large image of James in the entrance with recordings playing of his voice. It's not just about the dresses as there are also scrapbooks and photo albums from his personal archive. It turns out James was a hoarder and kept scrapbooks throughout his life. “This is the tiniest tip of the iceberg, he kept everything,” Koda said. “He was a hoarder. He kept receipts, copies of every letter.…This is the room where I think everybody will get a sense of the wildness of his imagination."

Not familiar with the work of Mr Charles James? Read up on the designer with our handy guide to his work. Plus we have all the details on Monday's red carpet - including what Lupita Nyong'o is wearing - so make sure to read up on everything you need to know about this year's Gala.



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