2014 Met Ball: Everything You Need To Know About Charles James

29 April 2014 by

Nancy James wearing Charles James, by Cecil Beaton

The designer's name has gone much un-discussed outside of the fashion world but Charles James, the masterful sculptor and couturier to the A-list in the '40s and '50s, is once again the fashion name to know.

Why? Because the Big Apple’s favourite fashion exhibition space The Metropolitan Museum of Art is celebrating James’ illustrious career as if he were one of their own in the upcoming Charles James: Beyond Fashion extravanganza. The vast array of original gowns that quietly inspired the silhouettes we’ve come to know and love comes to the museum this month and in turn, inspires the theme of the Met Ball, which takes place on Monday evening.

After several years of contemporary and thus arguably more accessibly themed shows like Alexander McQueen, Punk and Prada & Schiapparelli, the Met returns its gaze to fashion history. So to bring your knowledge up to scratch before the big frockathon, here’s what you need to know about the designer who was so ahead of his time...


The designer himself, shot by Cecil Beaton

Christian Dior called him “the greatest talent of my generation,” and Cristóbal Balenciaga considered James “the only one in the world who has raised dressmaking from an applied art to a pure art.” Monsieur Dior even credited Charles James with having inspired his world famous New Look and his A-line coat appeared long before Yves Saint Laurent’s. His fashion credentials are truly extraordinary.


Cecil Beaton's shot of Charles James's gowns

You may feel unfamiliar with James’ gowns; though it’s likely his dresses will have been seen countless times in Cecil Beaton’s famous photograph for Vogue. Eight beauties in sumptuous silk and taffeta sit surrounded by mirrors and boiserie on eighteenth century chairs; the rich light and exquisite gloss of the photo sums up the woman Charles undoubtedly designed for.


Charles James gowns - Getty

Charles James‘ haute couture was by no means stuffy, he described fashion as “what is rare, correctly proportioned, and, though utterly discrete, libidinous”. The show’s catalogue describes his designs as ‘hinting at the female sex’, brimming with inherent sexual miming via V-shape creases at groin or the ‘yoni-like opening of a coat collar’ (yoni being Sanskrit for vagina or womb).


Portrait of Charles James by Cecil Beaton

He prioritised a party lifestyle through both his art and lifestyle. via his designs, take The Taxi Dress which was built with zips spiralling around the body, making it easy enough to change in a cab. Not to mention his own party life where, according to the New Yorker, ‘for the friends in his clique – [Cecil] Beaton among them – beautiful manners and bad behaviour were the essence of chic’.


Two couture gowns at the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute - Getty

Whilst his contemporaries Saint Laurent and Chanel focussed on women’s lives, James fixated on their proportions “The feminine figure is intrinsically wrong, and can be corrected only by good posture and fashion. The Venus de Milo… would be most unfashionable unless she had a good dressmaker”. He corrected flaws with nips, tucks, implants and cushions of air between skin and cloth. Scaffolding beneath the fabric imposed a silhouette upon the wearer, that had very little to do with their own shape. Both forgiving and merciless, he favoured the curvaceous shapes of fecund hips and abdomen but small bustlines and these creations could weigh-in at up to eighteen pounds.

No doubt this year's guests have been flexing their dress-wearing muscles in preperation. Take a look through the best of last year's looks whilst we imagine which Charles James-inspired pieces the stars will choose on Met Ball night...

GALLERY>> Met Gala 2013

Sarah Jessica Parker in Giles Deacon at Met Gala

Beyonce in Givenchy Haute Couture by Riccardo Tisci at Met Gala

Diane Kruger in Chanel Couture at Met Gala

Kristen Stewart in Stella McCartney at Met Gala

Emily Blunt in Carolina Herrera at Met Gala

January Jones in Chanel at Met Gala

Rosie Huntington Whiteley in Gucci at Met Gala

Gwen Stefani in Maison Martin Margiela at Met Gala

Anne Hathaway in Valentino at Met Gala

Lily Aldridge in Tommy Hilfiger at Met Gala

Heidi Klum in Marchesa at Met Gala

Emmy Rossum in Donna Karan Atelier at Met Gala

Chanel Iman in J Mendel at Met Gala

Kate Bosworth in Balmain at Met Gala

Kelly Osbourne in Marc Jacobs at Met Gala

Carine Roitfeld in Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci at Met Gala

Sophia Coppola in Marc Jacobs at Met Gala

Lily Cole in Vivienne Westwood at Met Gala

Madonna in Givenchy Haute Couture by Riccardo Tisci at Met Gala

Cara Delevingne in Burberry at Met Gala

Katy Perry in Dolce & Gabbana at Met Gala

Jourdan Dunn, Ashley Madekwe and Julianne Hough in Topshop at Met Gala

Miranda Kerr in Michael Kors at Met Gala

Jennifer Lopez in Michael Kors at Met Gala

Rita Ora in Thakoon at Met Gala

Cameron Diaz in Stella McCartney at Met Gala

Carey Mulligan in Balenciaga at Met Gala

Mary Kate Olsen in vintage Chanel at Met Gala

Emma Watson in Prabal Gurung at Met Gala

Jennifer Lawrence in Dior at Met Gala

Lena Dunham in Erdem at Met Gala

Marion Cotillard in Dior at Met Gala

Blake Lively in Gucci at Met Gala

Michelle Williams in Saint Laurent at Met Gala

Gwyneth Paltrow in Valentino at Met Gala

Kylie Minogue in Moschino at Met Gala

Emma Roberts in Diane Von Fustenberg at Met Gala

Olivia Wilde in Calvin Klein Collection at Met Gala

Uma Thurman in Zac Posen at Met Gala

Christina Ricci at Met Gala

Elle Fanning in Rodarte at Met Gala

Jessica Alba in Tory Burch at Met Gala

Ashley Olsen at Met Gala

Ginnifer Goodwin in Tory Burch at Met Gala

Kerry Washington in Vera Wang at Met Gala

Karlie Kloss in Louis Vuitton at Met Gala

Miley Cyrus in Marc Jacobs at Met Gala

Hailee Steinfeld in Donna Karen Atelier at Met Gala

Alexa Chung at Met Gala

Nicki Minaj at Met Gala

Solange in Kenzo at Met Gala

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West in Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci at Met Gala

Jaime King at Met Gala

Sienna Miller at Met Gala

Chloe Sevigny

Nina Dobrev at Met Gala

Nicole Richie in Custom Topshop at Met Gala

Amanda Seyfried in Givenchy Haute Couture by Riccardo Tisci at Met Gala

Taylor Swift at Met Gala

Kirsten Dunst in Louis Vuitton

Dakota Fanning in Rodarte at Met Gala

Katie Holmes in Calvin Klein Collection at Met Gala

Anja Rubik at Met Gala

Karolina Kurkova in Mary Katrantzou at Met Gala

Tom Ford and Joan Smalls at Met Gala

Naomie Harris in Donna Karan Atelier at Met Gala

Rooney Mara at Met Gala

Rooney Mara in Givenchy Haute Couture by Riccardo Tisci at Met Gala

Giuliana Rancic at Met Gala

Hilary Rhoda in Wes Gordon at Met Gala

Riccardo Tisci and Rooney Mara in Givenchy at Met Gala

Anna Wintour in Chanel at Met Gala


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