Charles James at the Met

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.

What lies beneath was very much on his mind. It was enthralling. IMG_2667

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…

IMG_2663IMG_2665IMG_2666A 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.IMG_2676 IMG_2675 IMG_2678 IMG_2670You 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.IMG_2684 IMG_2683 IMG_2673 IMG_2671The 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.IMG_2698 IMG_2833 IMG_2839 IMG_2682The passion which drove me into a very difficult profession was one for form related to movement , and above all, to erotic grace.IMG_2714IMG_2736 IMG_2734 IMG_2733 IMG_2715We who have been ahead in STYLE have also been ahead in our thinking.IMG_2745 IMG_2744 IMG_2731 IMG_2729 IMG_2727 IMG_2726IMG_2849 IMG_2687 IMG_2685 IMG_2686IMG_2718 IMG_2713 IMG_2700 IMG_2696 IMG_2694IMG_2693IMG_2843IMG_2844IMG_2827IMG_2828IMG_2819IMG_2817IMG_2747IMG_2850IMG_2829IMG_2830IMG_2851IMG_2838IMG_2845My novel set in the international fashion industry is now available. You can buy Silk for the Feed Dogs here


  1. Oh, wow! These are magnificent! I find myself caught between simply admiring the form and fabric, and trying to twist my mind around how they’re actually constructed. The patterns must be masterpieces in their own right.

    • They truly are, Diane, The hi tech breakdown of the layers on the screen were super informative. Many of the visitors gasped as they saw the dresses being “put together” before their eyes. It was a great addition to the exhibition.
      If you get a chance to catch it, I highly recommend it. It’s a tea crowd pleaser and women were sighing. One said breathlessly, “I just love this exhibition” 🙂

  2. petermcl2013

    I’d be proud to accompany any damsel dressed so elegantly. I’d only hope I could match their regalness.

  3. I’m at a loss for words save for these, THANK YOU!! Beautiful, elegant, enchanting. XO

  4. Well done, Ms Bond! I so wish I could go!

  5. I don’t get why they’ve banned photos because they were allowed for the press preview. It would be a lot easier to just say no flash photography.

    I’m hoping to make it to NYC before summer’s end.

    • Well, of course, it will be right up your street. And no matter how many photos you see, there is nothing like the real thing and the computerized additions are so enlightening. You’ll thoroughly enjoy it. Something to look forward to xo

  6. Whee! Falling down this Charles James “rabbit hole” with you Jackie, like always, was totally awesome…
    wow, and what a wonderfully “descriptive” post, both the words and pictures 😉
    And as I cyber-wandered behind you through this a-mah-zing exhibit, I was awestruck by the magnitude of this man’s talent and skill and all I could hear were his words, “Elegance is not a social distinction but a sensual distinction.” How true!!~ xo
    But oh how I wished he could have been here to bask in the glory of it all and be given ALL the recognition he earned but never fully received 😦

  7. So very true.
    I was struck by the reactions of the women attending. They looked so different than what was on display–in jeans and sweatshirts for the most part–and yet they were all delighted by the dresses. The show was a real crowd pleaser, Several were heard say “I just love this exhibition!” I think many women from our comfort-obsessed yet flash-some-skin-and-shake-some-booty culture secretly would love to dress in this way and waft regally through a majestic room making a rustling noise, hems caressing the floor…
    You in? 🙂

    • Oh absolutely I’m in!! And would melt at such an opportunity to waft regally…
      while make a rustling noise with my hem caressing the floor…
      but the question is, would I long to return to today’s dress?
      huh…now there’s some food for thought???
      And what about you Lady Jackie? You in? 😉

  8. Thank you Jackie for taking these photographs. I won’t have a chance to see these myself so I was mesmerized, sitting here, fork in hand, salad suspended, forgotten in mid air, scrolling past one masterpiece after another. I would give my eye teeth to see these deconstructed. It’s pretty nice to have an ‘eye in the Met’.
    It strikes me as slightly elitist to forbid all photography. I understand not wanting flash photography, absolutely on baord with that, but c’mon! What about we hoi polloi?! How are we supposed to enjoy it? Thank you thank you thank you!

  9. Excellent coverage! XO
    I didn’t take any photos being the good dievca that I am…plus, I was equally interested in Master’s take at the time. Your view brought it all back for a second view. Thank you. 🙂

  10. That must have taken a lot of manoeuvring! I, too, believe that, in most cases, interdiction of photography is unreasonable, unecessary and annoying and that museums should reconsider their policy. Thank you for this bold sneak peek – one exhibition I’m prepared to stand in a queue for! Wonderful!

  11. Oh wow, these are gorgeous dresses and I can only imagine the craftsmanship that these call for. Love the quote “Elegance is not a social distinction but a sensual distinction. The mind combines with the body to exploit its scenes, its functions, its appearance.”

  12. Wow! So gorgeous and elegant dresses. I would like to wear one of all. 😀

  13. I won’t pretend appreciation of the subject Jackie but I do DO envy you the ability to just drop into that joint :/

  14. Great exhibition! Amazing technology and I love these gorgeous gowns.

  15. WOW! So cool- thank you for sharing with us so that we could see it!!

  16. What an incredible exhibition. How could you not feel anything other than gorgeous in one of these dresses? They look like they’re made from layers and layers of fabric – would they weigh a lot and be ‘wearable’? I love the way they caress and celebrate the female form. What is wrong with women having hips nowadays? Or even a bum?!

    • Nothing, in Mr James’ opinion. He was obsessed with the body underneath all those lush fabrics. Obsessed, I tell you. Wouldn’t it be lovely (and probably a work out) to swish around in one of these for an afternoon…even just in the garden?

  17. Impressive and expressive..I have been amazed by the places that allow photography (Buckingham Palace) and dismayed by those that don’’s narrow minded not to embrace that extra voice to the masses.. xxx

  18. Wow! I totally agree with the camera being our second pair of cameras, but I don’t we can entirely blame the MET about not allowing photography. There are a lot of copyright issues involved anyways. I had a curator explain to me but I don’t think I can do justice in recounting it. But it’s amazing to even be able to see his work in person. Amazing. Those are a lot of photos to get through, though!

    • oops, I meant camera being our second set of eyes. Sorry!

    • Thanks for stopping by.
      What can I say? Sometimes “more is more”. I guess, not everyone is lucky enough to have the chance to just drop into the Met and see this one for themselves so maybe my photos are all they’ll see. While I always buy the companion book too I think you are somehow intimately connected to the work on display when the photos are your own. I was giddy with excitement and snap happy, no doubt about it!

  19. Pingback: Reconstructing James | Lia in Brussels

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