Charles James: Beyond Fashion : New Metropolitan Museum of Art Exhibit

There are three places in New York I miss the most: Lincoln Center, Kalustyan’s and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Lincoln Center houses not only The Metropolitan Opera, The New York City Ballet, and The New York Philharmonic Orchestra, but also a range of other performing companies. Kalustyan’s is a paradise for spice lovers. When it comes to art, the scene in Brussels is quite lively, but what in the world can compare to the Met? I love the way they curate their exhibitions, especially at the Costume Institute, and next spring there will be another interesting showcase. “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” will focus on Charles James, America’s best-known couturier, and will run from May 8 to August 10, 2014.


James was known for his architectural designs, and his study of human anatomy and mathematics. He was also generous in his use of color. As the WWD reports, “the Costume Institute will examine James’ entire career, including the years he dressed society doyennes like Millicent Rogers, Austine Hearst and Dominique de Menil, and was associated with his close friend Cecil Beaton, through his later years at the Chelsea Hotel (he died in 1978).” There will be 100 pieces on display.

“He really is a one-of-a-kind designer,” said Harold Koda, curator in charge of the Costume Institute. “Even if you look through the history of French haute couture and all the English couture designers, James stands out as a very idiosyncratic personality and artist and one of the few designers who, in his own lifetime, felt that his work transcended the medium.”

Photo via WWD: Nancy James in Charles James’ Butterfly Gown, 1955. Photograph by Cecil Beaton, The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s.



  • Aisha: This is exactly the kind of exhibit I’d love to see! I live in a small town no where near New York City, and have been to NYC only once when I was accompanying my husband to a conference he was attending. Although I didn’t get to visit their museums, I did have a wonderful time walking from my hotel to Times Square for four days. I had so much fun that I didn’t even mind that the airline had lost our luggage, and all we had were the clothes on our back. 😉 We met up with our luggage the day we had to fly back home. The taxi driver looked puzzled when we told him to drop us off at baggage claim. LOL!

    The one museum we did get to explore was the Art Institute of Chicago. We spent an entire day there and didn’t see everything. September 5, 2013 at 9:53am Reply

    • Sheri: Aisha, what an adventure! You are far more good-natured about lost luggage than I am – I’m afraid I would have been camped out at baggage claim, making everyone miserable, and missing out on all the rest of the fun. 🙂 September 5, 2013 at 4:30pm Reply

      • Victoria: Same here! I think that Aisha’s example is much better. 🙂 September 5, 2013 at 4:55pm Reply

    • Victoria: The Art Institute of Chicago is one of my top favorite museums. Since I lived for many years in Chicago, I used to spend many Tuesdays (free visit days) there. I always visit it whenever I return to the city.

      Your Zen-like attitude to the lost luggage is admirable! 🙂 September 5, 2013 at 4:35pm Reply

  • Daisy: Three of my favorite places too! When I was a little kid, instead of getting a babysitter, my parents would just drop me off at the Met and come get me when it closed.

    Now I think that is called neglect 😉 but in the 80’s, it was free childcare 😉 Neglect or not, as a result, I always feel very comfortable in the museum and often go there if I need a contemplative moment or time to think.

    I’m very much looking forward to the new Costume Institute show. Do you know if this is going to be the first one following the current renovation?

    Ps. Love Kalustyan’s too! Am addicted to their baba ghanoush! September 5, 2013 at 2:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: Do you know what my mom did when I was a toddler? She would give me a box of buttons, and I would spend hours creating complex patterns out of them. Today, we would have said, “Danger! Suffocating hazard!” but back then, people were far more laidback. Plus, my mom was only 21-22 at the time. I do like your parents’ babysitting method. And see how well-rounded and multifaceted of a person you’ve turned out to be!

      Yes, from what I understand, this Charles James exhibit is the first one in the newly renovated space. It sounds fantastic. September 5, 2013 at 4:42pm Reply

      • Daisy: Times have certainly changed! Your story reminds me of a friend of mine out in California. She was visiting different elementary schools for her kids and at one, she walked into the gym and saw all the students throwing around colored silk scarves instead of balls. They didn’t want the kids to hurt themselves. September 5, 2013 at 10:22pm Reply

        • Victoria: Wow! This sounds overly protective and actually kind of bizarre. September 6, 2013 at 11:14am Reply

          • Hannah: One of my most traumatic experiences in school was from getting hit in the head with a ball. I’m astoundingly bad at sports so the other kids were really mean to me. I think PE classes were partially the cause of my social anxiety. Once we were playing volley ball and the ball hit me in the head. This wasn’t just a bump in the head either; I think I had a minor concussion. Everything went black for a few seconds and then I noticed everyone was laughing. I felt really dizzy and confused and my head hurt so my teacher told me to sit out for the rest of the class. And it didn’t get better until the next day. September 6, 2013 at 12:12pm Reply

            • Victoria: Oh no, you poor thing! It sounds awful. At least, the teacher recognized that something was wrong. September 6, 2013 at 12:22pm Reply

            • Daisy: That is terrible, Hannah! I’m so sorry to hear! Kids can be really cruel. September 6, 2013 at 1:05pm Reply

  • Mel: This exhibition sounds extraordinary. Maybe the only opportunity to see such a comprehensive collection of James’ work. Somehow, I’ll get there! September 5, 2013 at 2:40pm Reply

    • Victoria: I think so. It sounds like they’re working hard to securing pieces from various collections. September 5, 2013 at 4:46pm Reply

  • Eva S.: I love your posts about the beautiful world outside perfume! 🙂
    I will be going back to US next summer, and hope to be able to stay i New York and visit the Met. Thank you so much for telling us about this exhibition.:) September 5, 2013 at 2:55pm Reply

    • Victoria: The Met is full of treasures. When you visit, please be sure to stop by the studio from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio. It’s a little room covered with extraordinary wooden panels that originally made up the study of Duke Federico Montefeltro. A fascinating glimpse into the life of a Renaissance gentleman. September 5, 2013 at 4:52pm Reply

  • Ariadne: Wear your biggest boldest frag. to this exhibit!! FUN!!
    I also was allowed to roam the Met as a young girl by myself. I was loosely guided through it by being given a treasure hunt type list of things to scketch. Sadly I too would not encourage that practice today. September 5, 2013 at 4:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: I think of how much time I spent roaming around with my friends or by myself when I was little. My brother no longer got that freedom and his childhood was spent around careful schedules of play dates, and everything was supervised much more strictly. September 5, 2013 at 4:59pm Reply

      • Daisy: It’s kind of a shame, isn’t it? True, like Ariadne I wouldn’t encourage parents to do that today, but there was something magical about being by yourself as a kid at the Met.

        Did you ever read that book the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as a kid? When I did, I was like, “Been there, done that!” 🙂 September 5, 2013 at 10:26pm Reply

        • Victoria: I haven’t, but I just googled the title. 🙂 I think that the reason why I love museums so much is because I was essentially let loose in them and were allowed to browse freely. September 6, 2013 at 11:16am Reply

  • Hannah: The last time I was in NYC was for the Savage Beauty exhibit. There was a bottle of Kingdom in the Cabinet of Curiosities segment. I thought they might reissue Kingdom around that time, even if as a limited edition, but I guess that shows what I know.
    I also went to Aedes and I bought Ouarzazate. September 5, 2013 at 6:22pm Reply

    • Annikky: Savage Beauty was the one I really, really wanted to see. The source material was of course already brilliant, but I understand it was also very well curated and displayed. September 6, 2013 at 4:49am Reply

    • Victoria: I regret intensely to have missed it. Everyone said that it was an incredible exhibit. September 6, 2013 at 11:12am Reply

  • Mary: I used to work for the MMA (loved it!) and love fashion too I only wish I lived closer to NYC now so I could see the exhibit! September 5, 2013 at 6:38pm Reply

    • Victoria: So do I! I hope that I will be visiting at least once next summer though. The exhibit is on my to-do list. September 6, 2013 at 11:12am Reply

  • annemariec: 100 pieces! That is a substantial exhibition. How I’d love to see it. Still, on the weekend I’m going to see this one at the Australian National Portrait Gallery:

    Can’t wait! Bonus: the cafe at the portrait gallery does the best salted caramel macaroons in the WORLD. 🙂 September 6, 2013 at 3:55am Reply

    • Annikky: Love salted caramel. Love macaroons. Love salted caramel macaroons. September 6, 2013 at 4:41am Reply

    • Victoria: This and the salted caramel macaroons would be worth a flight to Australia! I’m envious. September 6, 2013 at 11:20am Reply

  • Annikky: I do envy Americans for their museums. Not that there aren’t any good ones in Europe, of course there are (d’Orsay, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Victoria & Albert are among my favourites), but they are easier for me to visit and hence not that jealousy-inducing. I remember when MOMA brought their hits to Berlin in 2011, it was a great exhibition, masterwork after masterwork.

    I can also relate to those museum-memories from childhood. I grew up near Russian border and before the fall of Soviet Union it was a tradition in our school to go to study trips to St Petersburg (then Leningrad, of course). As my parents were teachers, I got to go with older kids when I was still very young. I remember wandering around in Hermitage until I was so tired and dizzy from all the splendour. It’s been 10 years since I last visited and I miss it. September 6, 2013 at 4:40am Reply

    • Victoria: I also love that there is always something going on in NYC, whether big or small exhibits. It makes the art scene very exciting. Another aspect of NYC I miss is dance, especially ballet.

      My husband and I keep talking about visiting St. Petersburg at some point. I have never been, and I only need to listen to my mom or my grandmother talk about the city to be inspired. September 6, 2013 at 11:26am Reply

      • Daisy: I’ve never been to Saint Petersburg either! I would eat myself silly! September 6, 2013 at 1:07pm Reply

        • Victoria: I would gape at the art, Peter the Great’s ambitious city planning and lose myself in the bookstores. St. Petersburg is known for its great bookstores. September 7, 2013 at 9:39am Reply

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