Met Gala 2014 Best Dressed

Yesterday was the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Costume Institute exhibition. This year the show is a retrospective of Charles James’ work. I can’t wait to see it!

red carpet for the Met Gala, photo from @metmuseum’s Instagram

And last night was the Met Gala. I could dissect all the fashion on the red carpet, but, honestly, let’s just skip to the best. No point in wasting time on the ensembles that were ill fitting, revealed too much skin, or just didn’t fit with the theme.

James is called the Architect of Fashion, and his gowns lived up to that name based on complicated understructures that supported them. Only a lady with a strong presence could pull one off properly. So it’s only fitting that the best from last night made their wearers look like ladies and had pronounced architectural elements.

First honorable mentions go to Dita von Teese and Karen Elson in Zac Posen, Tabitha Simmons in Dolce and Gabbana, and Bee Shaffer in Alexander McQueen.

Zac Posen and Dita von Teese, photo by Josh Haner/The New York Times

Karen Elson in Zac Posen, photo by Josh Haner/The New York Times

Tabith Simmons in Dolce and Gabbana, photo by Josh Haner/The New York Times

Bee Shaffer in Alexander McQueen, photo by Josh Haner/The New York Times

And here are my top three gowns.

Taylor Swift in Oscar de la Renta, photo by Josh Haner/The New York Times

Taylor Swift looked so pretty in this Oscar de la Renta gown. I love the bustle that cascades into a sweeping train. It has just the right amount of embroidery, and the color complements her tone too.

Taylor Swift at the Met Gala, photo from @annstreetstudio’s Instagram

Lui Wen in Zac Posen, photo by Josh Haner/The New York Times

I follow Zac Posen’s Instagram feed, and have been anticipating his dominance on this red carpet for months based on the behind-the-scenes photos he posts. I mean, come on! Liu Wen looks like a proper lady in this stunner that is clearly inspired by Charles James. This gown requires a “presence” in order to carry it off, and its construction certainly rivals James’ gowns.

Karolína Kurková in Marchesa, photo by Josh Haner/The New York Times

But my top choice goes to Karolína Kurková in Marchesa. Marchesa! Who knew?! This gown has some serious architecture and a little edge. The floral design pops right off of the fabric into three dimensional form. Superb!

Lui Wen and Karolína Kurková on the Met Gala red carpet, photo from @annstreetstudio’s Instagram

EDIT: When I woke up this morning, I finally saw Hamish Bowles on his Instagram feed. He was certainly the best dressed gent last night and belatedly deserves to be on my list!

The Met’s New Charles James Acquisitions

ball gown by Charles James, 1947, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

This coming summer’s big Costume Institute exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is Charles James: Beyond Fashion. It runs from May 8 to August 10, and I can’t wait to see it. James was a brilliant designer, and one of the greatest American couturiers ever.

In 2009, the Brooklyn Museum of Art transferred its entire costume collection to the Met. Along with that transfer came a major archive of James’ work, setting up the Met to mount this major retrospective.

Well recently my research took me into the Met’s online collection database, and I found a ton of James pieces newly acquired by the museum. During 2013, the Met acquired more than 150 pieces, including some early works from the 1930s. Most of these are purchases credited as Costume Institute Benefit Fund, Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, and Acquisitions Fund, 2013. There are also a few purchased with funds from individual donors.

Some of these new James acquisitions are stunning. Take a look for yourself.

dress by Charles James, early 1930s, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

label in dress by Charles James, early 1930s, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

evening jacket by Charles James, 1930s, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

evening dress by Charles James, c. 1935, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

cocktail dress by Charles James, early 1950s, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

suit by Charles James, 1950s, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

dress by Charles James, 1952-53, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

label in dress by Charles James, 1952-53, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

'Butterfly' gown by Charles James, c. 1955, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

I wonder how many of these new pieces will show up in the exhibition this summer.

I’m torn whether or not the Met’s acquisition of so many pieces by James is a good or damaging thing for the field of fashion history. On one hand it creates a really strong collection, and will be amazing for Met fashion historians who want to examine the evolution in James’ design. Hopefully they will publish their findings so that we can all learn from their research.

On the other hand it could make it harder for an outside researcher to examine James garments in person. Conducting research at the Met isn’t possible for just anyone, especially an independent historian or someone at an institution with limited funds. The acquisition of so many pieces by a single institution means that it’s harder for smaller institutions to acquire any James garments for themselves. Plus, there’s no way the Met will be able to show all of these garments in a single exhibition, so many will live in storage unseen by the public.

What do you think about a single institution acquiring so many pieces of a designer’s work? And are you excited to see the exhibition this summer?

Thoughts at the Beginning of NYFW

It’s officially New York Fashion Week, and my social media is blowing up. In some respects I enjoy that there is so much coverage now, but I miss the days when content was edited before going online. The competitive spirit to post the designer collections before the next outlet shouldn’t drive reporters and editors to put up shoddy pictures and videos, clogging social media newsfeeds. That’s just my two cents.

New York Fashion Week has turned into a spectacle. In the past few years, the event’s focus has grown to include parties and shopping events, attendees (or wannabes), drama, and social media, that it’s not much of an industry preview anymore. It’s a global event, which is not entirely a bad thing. I like being able to get instant coverage of the collections from the comfort of home without a subscription to a pricey service. I attempt to tune out the extraneous.

The past few Fashion Weeks have seen such a backlash against bloggers and street style photography, so I’m curious to see what will happen this year. Will the circus environment that has been building finally subside, or will this year’s be the same or worse? At least where I sit, it seems a little more reserved than the recent past, but perhaps that is because I’ve tailored my online habits to avoid seeing the most annoying and ostentatious coverage. Although it is disconcerting to read so many editors, including Cathy Horn, lamenting gearing up to cover Fashion Week because of what it has turned into.

There is one bit of news that I’m really excited about — yesterday, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that the next Costume Institute exhibition will be “Charles James: Beyond Fashion.” James, the “Architect of Fashion” is known as one of the only American couturiers. He was a designer with incredible vision who built, yes built, some of the most incredible ballgowns the world has seen. He began his career as a milliner in Chicago and rose to the top, designing couture for the most elite women in the world. Unfortunately ego and bad financial strategy were his undoing.

In grad school, I had the opportunity to de-install an exhibition at the Chicago History Museum featuring two James dresses, and I’ll never forget the complexity of those dresses when we took them off their mannequins. They could have stood up on their own without a body supporting them — that’s how structured each gown was. Amazing.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Met handles James’ designs, career, and life. There is so much territory to explore, so I do hope that the exhibition delivers more than a spectacle of pretty dresses. I hope we learn how complex the dresses’ understructures were, how he evolved as a designer, and a bit about his life and relationships with clients, friends, family, and fellow designers.

What do you think about the future Charles James exhibition at the Met? And are you following any NYFW coverage or blocking it all out for the next week?