Charles James, Met Gala 2014: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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Charles James is the designer who is being honored at the 2014 Met Gala tonight. Read on for the facts on the designer’s exhibit, his life, and his affect on the fashion industry.


1. Charles James: Beyond Fashion Is the First Exhibit Shown at Anna Wintour’s Costume Center

The Costume Institute was just reopened today as Anna Wintour’s Costume Center and Charles James: Beyond Fashion is the first exhibit. The Met Museum’s website features an introduction on the exhibit:

The inaugural exhibition of the newly renovated Costume Institute will examine the career of the legendary twentieth-century Anglo-American couturier Charles James (1906–1978). Charles James: Beyond Fashion will explore James’s design process, focusing on his use of sculptural, scientific, and mathematical approaches to construct revolutionary ball gowns and innovative tailoring that continue to influence designers today.

There will be about 75 of James’ most notable designs on display.


2. James Had no Formal Training

While Charles James is an esteemed designer in the fashion world, he actually had no formal training when it came to design. His bio with the Met gives a little background on why his works have become to revered:

After designing in his native London, and then Paris, James arrived in New York City in 1940. Though he had no formal training, he is now regarded as one of the greatest designers in America to have worked in the tradition of the Haute Couture. His fascination with complex cut and seaming led to the creation of key design elements that he updated throughout his career: wrap-over trousers, figure-eight skirts, body-hugging sheaths, ribbon capes and dresses, spiral-cut garments, and poufs.

James is most known for his sexy silhouettes and his signature ball gowns. His most famous ball gown weighed 18 pounds.


3. Hats Were James’ Initial Calling

Charles James originally began his fashion career with hats, not the gowns that he’s known for today. E! News writes:

Born in 1906, James got his start in the fashion industry at the age of 19 when he opened up a hat shop in Chicago, using the name of one of his childhood friends, “Charles Boucheron.” Two years later he moved to New York and opened up a hat shop in Murray Hill.


4. He Had Money Troubles

Like many designers in the fashion industry, James got in over his head financially and had some money troubles. E! News reported:

While he was a creative genius, James famously fell short on the business end of things. He ultimately fell into $197,000 worth of debt and had his showroom seized by the IRS.


5. Much of the General Public Is Unfamiliar with his Designs

Many may be wondering why the Met Gala is honoring the late designer for their annual event. E! News has actually discussed this on their site saying:

The late designer is not exactly a household name, and he’s mostly recognized among the fashion set. But just because he may not be as familiar a name as, say, Coco Chanel, that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t tremendously influential.

So, while many may not have heard of James, it does not make his work any less important or influential.


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