Dear Shaded Viewers,
When I was in New York a few weeks ago, thanks to Harold Koda, I had the opportunity to see some of the work in progress and archives that will be a part of Charles James: Beyond Fashion which opens May 8 – August 10 at the Anna Wintour Costume Center and first-floor Special Exhibition Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For those of you in the press: Monday May 5th there will be a press preview.
I was talking about Charles James with my friend Christine de Lassus and asked her if she could share some of her personal memories with the Shaded Viewers of her meeting with the master Charles James.
"When I was a teenager, my first stay in NY was at the Chelsea hotel. That was just before Sid and Nancy, and my days were spent passing between William Burroughs and Charles James apartments. At night Arthur C Clarke would come play ping-pong in our 12th floor loft and George Klesinger would walk his skunk down the corridor. This was a time of Innocent glorious youth.
The artist Antonio Lopez and his companion Juan were archiving Charles’s body of work, Antonio was illustrating the best of Charles’s designs and we spent all our afternoons in his 6th floor studio. (he also had an adjoining apartment)
Charles James was an older man and seemed so ancient to me but at the same time so vivacious and creative. His quiet collared beagle was always at his side. I remember cases with amazing jewelry that he had designed, so many sketches, pattern pieces, yellowing newspaper clippings, swatches and drawings. It was a little sad because he was so fragile and always coughing and so frail and had no friends except Sputnick, his dog, Antonio, Juan, Paul, and me the year that I was there. I think he died less than 2 years later from pneumonia. It was all quite chaotic. I don’t recall many gowns though. Don’t tell me fashion was happening in Paris then…between Antonio and Charles, this was the epicenter of it.Thank you for giving me the chance to remember those amazing days and that special artist." Christine de Lassus
Harold Koda, the curator in charge at The Costume Institute felt it was time to address the lack of public knowledge about the 20-th century designer, Charles James. We think of him as American, or rather we want to think that he belonged to us however he was British living in New York. His architectural gowns were worn and adored by Elsa Schiaparelli, Coco Chanel and Gloria van der Bilt, among many others. He was friends with Jean Cocteau, Christian Dior, Beaton … According to the Met, Dior actually attributed his revolutionary New Look to an original James idea.
I love that in 2011 Marisa Tomei wore a blue vintage Charles James dress for the Oscars. Some of the most iconic photos of James' work was taken by his life-long friend, Cecil Beaton, in the 50's. Later they had a feud… The only thing James really cared about was his work, he was always in search of perfection and he just did not want anyone to own his art but himself or a museum.
Charles James: Beyond Fashion runs May 8 – August 10 and will inaugurate the newly constructed Anna WIntour Costume Center at the Met.