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?

Costume Institute Renovated

Last night, news broke that the Metropolitan Museum of Art is renaming its Costume Institute as the Anna Wintour Costume Center. I freaked and thought I was being punked, and it turns out that we all were. Breathe a sigh of relief here.

The Met issued a statement that the renovated space that houses the Costume Institute will be called the Anna Wintour Costume Center, and that the curatorial department will continue to be known as the Costume Institute. The Anna Wintour Costume Center will house two exhibition galleries — a 4,200-square-foot flexible-design gallery called the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery for big exhibitions and the Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery that introduces visitors to the costume collection. The Center will also include the Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library, a state-of-the-art conservation laboratory, research areas, and offices dedicated to fashion.

Looks like a lot of publications have some corrections to run. *cough cough New York Times, The Cut, Fashionologie cough cough*

However I loved the mistaken tweet by Vanessa Friedman of the Financial Times: “Met renames the Costume Institute the “Anna Wintour Costume Center.” And so is Diana Vreeland trumped.” Because even though the department isn’t getting renamed as the rumor went, Wintour now has naming rights to a space in the museum, which was something Vreeland never got in her tenure as special consultant to the Costume Institute.

Friday File

One of the cool parts of my job is going to vintage fashion auctions. A few weeks ago I bid at Augusta Auctions in New York by telephone and won a stunning 1916 dress for my fashion study collection. My heart was beating so hard and fast, especially when my telephone proxy said I won. It’s a euphoric high. Yesterday, I went to a local auction, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, and was not as lucky. You win some, you lose some I guess.

Here’s a few links from the week:

Did you hear that Pantone’s 2014 “Color of the Year” is radiant orchid? Christina Brinkley of The Wall Street Journal explains how Pantone comes up with their color of the year.

Fall in love with a Charles James’ Hipster dress in the Met’s preview video for the Costume Institute exhibition this summer.

Do you know when to use historic vs. historical? I’ll be honest, I didn’t know there was a difference until I read this.

I can’t wait to read this biography/memoir of Vivienne Westwood. “Vivienne is wonderfully candid. I sat there with my jaw on the table for a lot of it. Especially about what went on in the 1970s, ” Ian Kelly, the book’s co-author, said.

Have a great weekend! And don’t forget to enter my Laurel Denise 2014 planner giveaway!

Met Gala Recap

Did you watch the Met Gala red carpet live stream on Monday? I did, and provided a running commentary to my husband, who thought the whole thing was a little insane, and on twitter.

There has been plenty of coverage of who wore what. I thought The Cut‘s was the best roundup of all the looks. Although Daily Mail‘s piece presented the trends well at a quick glance.

But I want to make a few quick observations of my own.

Emma Stone in Lanvin, photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images from The Cut

First, my hands down best dressed of the night was Emma Stone in Lanvin. Probably didn’t hurt that she arrived with the adorable designer Alber Elbaz. I thought the dress’s silhouette and color were fun and flirty. The embellishment was interesting and makes me crave a closer look. And the length was perfect for maneuvering the Met’s steep staircase.

(If you watched the live stream, you saw woman after woman stumbling and getting stuck on the staircase because of their long and leg binding dresses.)

Karlie Kloss in Jason Wu with Jason Wu | Christina Ricci in Thakoon, photos by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images from The Cut

Runner up had to go to Karlie Kloss on the arm of Jason Wu. I’m not a huge fan of the color combo hot pink and black generally, but something about the asymmetrical drape of the pink and delicateness of the lace worked in this dress by Wu. I also really like Christina Ricci’s black and nude Thakoon dress in an exaggerated silhouette. The back had a giant bow. I mean, if you are going to rock a nontraditional red carpet gown, this is the venue to do so.

Lena Dunham in Wes Gordon with Hamish Bowles in Dolce & Gabbana | Jonathan Tisch and Lizzie Tisch in Mary Katrantzou, photos by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images from The Cut

Lena Dunham looked fab in Wes Gordon escorted by Hamish Bowles in Dolce & Gabbana. This was an unexpected pair to turn up together, but I thought it was cool that the Girls star is friends with this fashion wizard. And I’m giving big nods to Lizzie Tisch for donning a surrealist digital print on a Mary Katrantzou dress.

Beyonce in Givenchy haute couture, photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images from The Cut

Now for my least favorite. Beyonce was on many best dressed lists, but I cannot stomach what she was wearing. It’s all a little too I’m-going-to-wear-the-craziest-combo-of-design-options-because-this-is-the-Met-Gala. I said before that this was the place to take risks, but this Givenchy haute couture dress was not a risk. It was a bit of a disaster in my opinion. A little too much all in one. Also, I was not a fan of the super, super fashionably late arrival. It’s one thing to want to be the last on the carpet. It’s another to arrive after the red carpet live stream ends.

One last thing to point out — there was definitely a long, sheer skirt trend going on. Not only did Beyonce do it, but also Rooney Mara in Givenchy haute couture, Marion Cotillard in Dior, Heidi Klum in Escada, and Caroline Sieber in Christopher Kane were seen in a similar look.

Rooney Mara in Givenchy haute couture | Marion Cotillard in Dior, photos by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images from The Cut

Heidi Klum in Escada | Caroline Sieber in Christopher Kane, photos by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images from The Cut

I would love to know what you thought. Anything particular stand out to you?

More Buzz

The fashion world cannot shut up about the Schiaparelli and Prada exhibition at the Met, which is great for female designers and will help the Costume Institute turn out another popular show. Here are some links filled with the buzz:

The NY Times discusses the heyday and uniqueness of female designers, focusing on Schiaparelli and Prada.

Zac Posen thinks Schiaparelli was a ‘bad ass.’

Judith Thurman profiles Schiaparelli and Prada in a piece for The New Yorker, focusing on their similar upbringings, differences in career, and appreciation of pretty/ugly.

Harper’s Bazaar reviews Schiaparelli’s work on its own pages.

Fashionista heard a rumor that all the Vogue editors will be wearing pink, in honor of Schiaparelli’s Shocking Pink, to the Met Ball.

Robin Givhan penned an excellent profile on Muicca Prada for The Daily Beast.

Director Baz Lurmann is directing a film starring Muiccia Prada, as herself, and Judy Davis, as Elsa Schiaparelli, according to Fashionista.

And the greatest news of all might be that the Met will be live streaming the red carpet for the Costume Institute Benefit on May 7 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. EST. No doubt, I’ll be watching.

Have you seen any other articles about the upcoming show? Will you be watching the live stream?

A Preview: Schiaparelli and Prada Exhibition

photos of Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The fashion, museum, and dress studies worlds have been a buzz since the success of the Met’s Costume Institute exhibition featuring Alexander McQueen last year. It was a hit, and drove scores of visitors into the museum. Lines to get in lasted hours and proved to administrators that fashion in museums can have a big impact. So it was with great anticipation that fans waited to hear what this year’s topic would be.

The exhibition was announced — Schiaparelli and Prada. Two great female designers from Italy would be showcased. Elsa Schiparelli designed clothing from the late 1920s until 1954 and is renowned for her surrealist approach. Miuccia Prada on the other had took over her family’s leather goods business in 1978, and turned it into a powerhouse fashion company.

Many wondered how this exhibition would work. Prada herself stirred controversy when she criticized the curatorial team regarding their process. Even I wondered how deep the exhibition would delve and if the narrative would feel contrived.

The Met has released a preview of the exhibition on its website, probably hoping to quiet some of the misgivings and definitely hoping to drum up excitement.

The full title of the exhibition is Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, appropriate since these designers worked decades apart in different eras. The contexts their clothing were created in and worn in are very different, so the exhibition must imagine conversations by using the clothing as a guide.

We now know the exhibition will be organized into seven different sections: Waist Up/Waist Down, Ugly Chic, Hard Chic, Naif Chic, The Classic Body, The Exotic Body, and The Surreal Body.

I admit that some of these topics sound really intriguing.

Take for instance Waist Up/Waist Down, which will look at Schiaparelli’s above the waist decorative detailing and Prada’s focus on the lower body. There will be a subsection in it called Neck Up/Knees Down looking at Schiaparelli’s hats and Prada’s footwear.

I think I am most interested in the Ugly Chic section, which will “reveal how both women subvert ideas of beauty and glamour by playing with good and bad taste through color, prints, and textiles.” I am fascinated by themes of finding beauty in the grotesque and other subversive ideas of what attractiveness is. This could be one of the best “conversations” in the entire exhibition.

And then there is the Surreal Body. No one has done surrealism in fashion better than Schiaparelli, and I’m interested to see how Prada’s work stands against Elsa’s.

There are images of both women’s work organized into the seven sections along with a video of curators Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton talking about the exhibition.

What do you think of the exhibition preview? Are you surprised? More or less excited to see it yourself?