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The Gracefully Sexy Charles James Exhibition


We who have been ahead in STYLE have usually been also ahead in our thinking.

– Charles James


The Met has something for nearly every region of my brain, easily making it one of my favorite museums. No pretty rocks or beetles, but that can be found just across a park. Besides, there are weapons here. And flutes disguised as walking sticks. And medieval drinking cups (with naughty but sexist connotations). And intrigues, if you take the time to dig deeper.

The Charles James exhibition is now over, but I’m happy to say that I was able to visit it with two dear friends. One of them is Sandino, a fashion designer from Manila, who planned his arrival to NY partly around this exhibition. Months prior, I was only too excited when I found out that he’s returning for further studies, because he’s one of the people I strongly believe to be cut out for this city.

I found out about Charles James through friends in the fashion industry who told me about his architectural approach to design, and that I’d probably love his work. Process-oriented, no frou-frou, but expressing creativity in the very construction.

Prototypes greet visitors by the entrance in a small, brightly lit vignette.

The rest of the room is dark, like a bar, with gowns worn by invisible bodies, seemingly floating on platforms. I wish I could’ve taken more photos, but it was pretty dim, and the rest of my shots were too grainy. Below is the Ball Gown, made in 1951.

The exhibit design maximized the appreciation of the intelligence Charles James incorporated into the designs. Each gown had a little camera sensor that would travel through key elements in a piece and show an animated construction in a small screen. Each piece has an x-ray-like animation and deconstruction/reconstruction.

The Swan Ball Gown.

The Butterfly Ball Gown. If I had to walk in this, may it not be in stilettos.

I wonder how much this gown weighed, and how the wearer is able to sit and use the bathroom. If I had to wear it, I probably won’t eat much, months prior even. What a tragedy if your body can’t fit into this dress anymore in case your measurements change. Across the gowns of Charles James, maybe it’s more of the dress wearing you instead of you wearing the dress.

The next one is my favorite, the Clover Leaf Ball Gown. Particularly the black and white version, but closely followed by the one with lace. Every component is cut and connected so carefully to form the structure of the dress. Notice how gowns of the past allowed for more… personal space for women, because of the volume of dresses? That appeals to me.

A pattern on the wallpaper in the gift shop.

The second part of the exhibition showcased everyday wear, such as coats and cocktail dresses.

If you take note of certain elements, you may notice the aesthetic, perhaps even intent of the designer: graceful eroticism. That phrase was plastered on several quotes and anecdotes, it surprises me that not even one photo of mine has it. Anyway, the little things, like the location and drawing of folds, how pleats meet to form the curve of a spine, V forms… details like these evidence it. This is my kind of sexy, because unlike modern day sexy outfits, these show respect, playfulness, and sophistication in the showcase of a woman’s curves. Even if some gowns, were a conspicuous “hello there!” emphasizing a woman’s lady parts (it was multi-layered tulle I recall), it was still done tastefully. I forgot to take a photo of that one.

Obligatory butt photo. We didn’t go around more, because the Charles James exhibition was more than enough to satisfy the day’s museum quota. However, a statue of Perseus was along the way out, and the view was quite lovely. One day, I’m going back to the museum to document the best butts found at The Met. Stay tuned.


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