I recently attended the inaugural show of the Met Museum’s re-opened and renamed Costume Institute (now known as The Costume Institute's Anna Wintour Costume Center). As a designer, James is known for highly technical work that has much in common with architecture or engineering. In keeping with this theme, the Met worked with an architecture firm on the exhibition’s display. The works are exhibited in low light on slightly raised platforms. In a decision that I found quite distracting, a robotic camera scans the clothing and signals a video display to provide explanation. Another problem I had with this presentation was that to allow for screening the videos, the light in the gallery needed to be minimal, making viewing the clothes difficult. In addition, the video content, although informative, was a lot to absorb (especially from a screen) and took my attention away from the clothes.
What I did see, I enjoyed very much. Highlights include the “Butterfly,” “Clover Leaf" and “Four-Leaf Clover,” all stunning achievements. Other works show an interest in and interplay with Surrealism. Also, photos of the clothes on the wealthy patrons that commissioned them were a revelation. The society women shown wearing James’ creations looked both beautiful and fascinating. Finally a room of ephemera showcased working models, correspondence and other material related to the show. In a nice touch, the Museum gift shops sell Charles James’ tape measures, pins and thimbles.
To learn more about Charles James check the books below from the library, including the show catalog.
Charles James: Beyond Fashion Koda, Harold
The Genius of Charles James Coleman, Elizabeth A.
Universe of Fashion: Charles James Martin, Richard (Richard Harrison)
Posted on July 14, 2014 I Blog post by Lou Acierno, M.L.I.S. (Director of Library Services)