As one of American fashion’s iconic institutions, the Costume Institute sets the standard for what is considered culturally significant within the world of fashion. More than simply capturing the mood of the moment, their exhibits provide a succinct guide through the industry’s important movements and key figures. Though the annual Costume Institute exhibits often chart the histories of an important modern designer, or au courant trend – they also serve to introduce a younger generation of fashionphiles to eras bygone and influential names whose enduring work impacts the business daily.
Such is the case with 2014’s Costume Institute exhibition, Charles James, Beyond Fashion. James’ name may be familiar to those with an appreciation of vintage couture, but for the most this exhibition will serve as a thoughtfully curated and in-depth introduction to a rare talent. Known for his exquisite cuts and groundbreaking shapes, James’ gowns were a favorite of the social set including fabled names like Mona von Bismarck & Babe Paley. With their classic elegance and sartorial grandeur James’ creations regularly appeared in Cecil Beaton’s photographs for Vogue and served to influence a host of designers that followed. Christian Dior even credited James’ work with inspiring elements of ‘The New Look’s silhouette. James considered each creation a singular work of art rather than a simple dress and when one sees his corseted, ruffled and intricately detailed gowns up close it’s hard to argue with that logic.
Photos by Betty Sze