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“Charles James: Beyond Fashion” Opens at the Costume Center

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Ribbon Cutting and Press Preview for Anna Wintour Costume Center and Charles James: Beyond Fashion COSTUME INSTITUTE Exhibition“Now, I know that Anna hates being the center of attention, so this all is probably killing her—but we love it,” said Michelle Obama as she took the stage at the ribbon cutting of the Metropolitan Museum’s new Anna Wintour Costume Center this morning. The first lady, sporting a green floral Naeem Khan, was speaking to a crowd of—as she put it so accurately—legends, including the likes of Marc Jacobs, Alber Elbaz, Donatella Versace, Olivier Theyskens, Alexander Wang, Ralph Lauren, Diane von Furstenberg, Calvin Klein, and many more. “The truth is, I’m here today because of Anna. I’m here because I have such respect and admiration for this woman whom I am proud to call my friend,” said Obama. Adding, “thanks to Anna and so many other dedicated individuals, the Met will be opening up the world of fashion like never before.”

The new world at the Met was brought to life by the soon-to-open Costume Center and its inaugural exhibition, Charles James: Beyond Fashion—a preview of which was given to guests after the first lady’s opening remarks. Wandering through the near empty (and Met Gala prepping) wings, the attendees made their way to the exhibition space. (Not without pausing to view the towering Charles James dress constructed entirely of roses in the lobby —“I have Michael Kors in my picture! Photo-bombing,” exclaimed Sarah Jessica Parker as she snapped away—and getting a bit lost along the way. “This is a sitcom. And a divine one at that,” narrated Kors.)

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The exhibition, in contrast to those of recent seasons’ past, is decidedly pared down. The emphasis is clear: The viewer is here is to see the dresses—James’ elaborately constructed ivory silk satin ball gowns, famous (or perhaps infamous?) little wrap “Taxi” dresses, and the voluminous “Tree” dress created for socialite Marietta Tree being just a few. Rotating X-rays, developed by architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, allow the viewer to thoroughly examine the inner workings of many of James’ painstakingly created works. Original sketches and (some rather punchy) writings add further reference. “James was someone who engineered the hidden physics of a dress even though he is remembered for the loud surfaces of his designs,” explained head curator Harold Koda. “He is an artist who just happened to work in fashion. We believe that the public will leave this exhibition with an understanding of his great innovations.”

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This exhibition and space will see “hundreds of thousands of visitors, many of them students,” said Obama. “That’s really who I think about. Fashion isn’t an exclusive club for the few who can attend a runway show or shop at certain stores. This center is for anyone who is curious about fashion and how it impacts our culture and our history.”

The Anna Wintour Costume Center and Charles James: Beyond Fashion will open May 8.

Photo: Joe Schildhorn /BFAnyc.com

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Dept. of Culture