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August 28 2014

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Charles James Then and Now: An Artistic Interpretation

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Modern Day Charles James
Eight models wearing Charles James gowns, in French & Company's eighteenth century French paneled room

Not everyone at last night’s Met Gala knew the story of Charles James—not by a long shot. “He’s a new person for me,” admitted Hailee Steinfeld, who was utterly adorable in Prabal Gurung. “He’s someone I don’t know. I’m 25!” laughed a Michael Kors-clad Ming Xi when quizzed on the couturier. The evening’s DJ, Diplo, referred to Charles James: Beyond Fashion as “Fashion and the Thingamajig.” And when we asked Katie Couric about James, she jokingly replied, “I think he’s from the forties, isn’t he? Don’t ask me any more hard questions!” However, while not everyone was familiar with the details of James’ career, most everyone had seen the iconic 1948 Cecil Beaton photo, which features eight women in pastel James gowns. Or, as Hedwig and the Angry Inch‘s Lena Hall called it, “that Cecile photograph.” She made up for the slip with her charm, and by looking divine in a Jamesian Zac Posen number. “I’ve seen that photograph a lot. In fact, I think my mother has it on her wall. So when I saw that, I was like, ‘Oh, I guess I know more about him than I thought.’”

Gala chair Aerin Lauder had an even more personal story about the famed snap. “I own the Cecil Beaton photograph, but I didn’t know much about [James] before working on the event for a year.” It would seem many a starlet and socialite looked to said image for sartorial inspiration—so much so that we were able to re-create the photograph with some of the ladies from yesterday evening’s red carpet. Here, for your viewing pleasure, we give you a modern-day mockup of Beaton’s photo, starring TV chef and girlfriend to Governor Andrew Cuomo Sandra Lee’s gargantuan dress (a questionable blend of a James ball gown and his Butterfly design), Hall, Amy Adams, Katie Holmes, Liu Wen, Sarah Silverman, and more. You’re welcome.

Photos: Getty Images; Cecil Beaton, courtesy of the Met

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Dept. of Culture