A Primer on Couturier Charles James, the Subject of the Next Costume Institute Exhibit

Get to know the designer behind the next Costume Institute exhibition and click through for a slideshow of James's biomorphic, nature-inspired gowns.
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Get to know the designer behind the next Costume Institute exhibition and click through for a slideshow of James's biomorphic, nature-inspired gowns.
Charles James, ca. 1950.

Charles James, ca. 1950.

Yesterday, The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced the forthcoming Costume Institute exhibition, Charles James: Beyond Fashion. A departure from this year's punk exhibition, 2014's show will focus on mid-century glamour, chronicling a designer whose sculptural silhouettes sent the mid-century beau monde clamoring for his idiosyncratic designs.

In his time, the Anglo-American designer was lauded for his masterful dressmaking skills which incorporated a methodology based on mathematical, architectural, and sculptural processes. However, he wasn't without his flaws. James was a perfectionist, possessed an erratic temperament and grew a reputation for fiscal irresponsibility. It was said that if a customer ordered a James creation for a special event, it was in her best interest to have a backup ensemble as James would not always deliver in a timely manner. Although extraordinarily successful as a designer, James failed as a business man. The James label would never see financial success and would solely rely on the patronage of society women and heiresses.

Relying on clever boning, padding, crinolines and bustles, James's understructures recalled those of the previous century. As the proverbial saying goes, a woman should wear the dress and not the other way around; this however, was not a concern of James. Many of James's evening gowns disregarded the body entirely, and the wearer would assume an otherworldly, inhuman figure. These silhouettes would defy the female form in favor of those found elsewhere, in nature.

Get to know the designer behind the next Costume Institute exhibition and click through for a slideshow of James's biomorphic, nature-inspired gowns.