I’d rather have no audience at all than one for which I could have no respect.-Charles James
Photos are banned in the Charles James exhibition and several uniformed men were on my tail for my entire visit. I wasn’t happy about it but remained undeterred. Cutting edge technology is at the heart of the exhibition: robotic arms holding cameras or digital projectors are trained on each dress emitting a probing light along the length of each outfit about four inches from the fabric. The information is then transmitted onto screens alongside the outfit and, like jigsaw puzzles being pieced together before our eyes, the complicated infrastructure of each creation is revealed. Layers of silk shantung, faille, tulle, lace, boning, velvet, weights, crepe, chiffon are strategically assembled in colors of copper and blush and peach to hint delightfully at the erogenous zones buried so far below.
I turned my flash off out of respect for the fabric, both delicate and decades old. But I think the motivation behind the constant “Miss, no photos” that echoed in those grand rooms is more mercenary: a fear of unsold postcards in the museum shop and that the the glossy exhibition book would not grace thousands of coffee tables this summer.
I think the organizers at the Met need to respect their audience. I wanted to see the pieces, the fabrics, the construction with my own eyes and not from a book which is how I’ve viewed his work until now. But our camera phones are our second set of eyes nowadays, catching what the first set may have missed. We are compelled to photograph what strikes us as beautiful. The blogosphere runs on this premise. And this exhibition is beautiful. If it’s good enough for your robots, Met, it should be good enough for us.
So after some ducking and diving, here are the creations, drawings and, from here on, words of Charles James…
A great designer does not seek acceptance. He challenges popularity, and by the forces of his convictions, renders popular in the end what the public hates at first sight. You can’t really tell why it’s erotic–it’s the mystery that makes it good. It has to do with the movement of a dress.
What, after all, is the function of fashion but to be a rehearsal for propagation? Rehearsals, we might better say. The excitement of new fashions is for us to know what lies within and beneath clothes; this being hinted at rather than stated, by the sway of the figure as it moves against and with the flow of the material.
My dresses helped women discover figures they didn’t know they had. The passion which drove me into a very difficult profession was one for form related to movement , and above all, to erotic grace. We who have been ahead in STYLE have also been ahead in our thinking. My novel set in the international fashion industry is now available. You can buy Silk for the Feed Dogs here