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One of the nicest perks of my job is Summer Fridays, i.e. getting out of work at 1pm every Friday between Memorial Day (June) and Labor Day (September). Even though I have to book overtime on the other days to make up for the time off, it’s worth it. I love exploring the city during “off hours” and the chance to get a head start on the weekend.

Yesterday I spent the day bumbling around The Met, which, to be honest, I haven’t been to in at least a year. (This is what happens when you live in one of the greatest cities in the world: You become numb to its marvels and find yourself whining about the travails of getting a table for two at 8pm on Wednesday night instead.) I’d forgotten how huge and labyrinthine the museum is–and how fun! I went from the Temple of Dendur to gold-plated roccco toilette sets in two minutes!

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I also had a chance to see the new Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition. There’s been so much press over this since it marked the debut of the Anna Wintour Costume Center. My expectations were high–not only because of the PR, but because of my memories of the exquisite Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition a few years ago (they’re recreating it at the V&A in 2015, and it’s a MUST).

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Charles James is much more austere … Less storytelling and more about the technical aspects of his work. The exhibition is split into two parts–the first features dresses on huge round pedestals, circled by robotic cameras with lasers that point out aspects of the design. A large screen at the base of the pedestal provides further details, including photos, inspiration, x-rays and technical analysis of the garment. It was fascinating to see a birdseye view of a dress (especially of the famous four leaf clover gown, below), or to see a camera go underneath a skirt to show the colorful mille feuille. James’ evening dresses have a strong Victorian influence, so there was much time spent on the complex corsetry and weights used to make the silhouette appear just so.

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The second part of the exhibition is miles away from the first–some nice English ladies and I spent about 10 minutes pittering between the American Wing and Ancient Egypt to get there. This gallery showed a greater variety of garments, but there were no robotic cameras. There was a tiny space on the side with some of his sketches, photos, and documentaries.

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Overall I would say it’s probably the most accessible fashion exhibition I’ve seen in a while–there was something of interest to everyone who visited. However, for me, clothing is about beauty, romance, emotion and experience all tied up in one. This exhibition didn’t make me feel anything except a healthy amount of respect for technical expertise and craftsmanship. I also wish there’d been more on James’ creative process and production team. There was so much about what was inside each dress, but little about how it was actually made. I guess I wanted to be told a story, instead of just shown a collection of interesting things. However, that may not have been the purpose of the exhibition in the first place.

The only way to tell? Go visit and decide for yourself.

Charles James: Beyond Fashion
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
May 8 – Aug 10

Images from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photographs by Cecil Beaton
Image of the exhibit signage and the Temple of Dendur taken by me (yay, iPhone!)

 

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