May fifth is upon us. Maybe you're planning on recovering from that Star Wars party you threw the night before… maybe your waking up and tossing on that "made in China" Sombrero and grabbing some "brewed in Germany" Mexican beer to celebrate Mexico's Independence day* … maybe you and your significant other are celebrating your anniversary like I am… but fashionista's and art lovers alike now have another event to look forward to: The Costume Institute Gala.
This years Costume Institute Gala, referred to as the Met Ball or Met Gala, will be on May 5th, 2014. The theme this year is "Charles James: Beyond Fashion".
Who is Charles James? Many know him as America's First Couturier and Vogue described him as the "…master of color comparatives, of the cut and fold of exceptional cloths." I'm going to add my own personal opinion that he is a master engineer who not only understands luxurious fabrics but the structure and movement of the female form.
Although he has been dubbed the First American Couturier, Charles James actually grew up in England. His fashion career however did start in Chicago, Illinois where he worked as a hat maker. Charles' start as a hat maker shaped his future approach towards garment designs. Charles would construct his hats directly onto his clients head, instead of the traditional approach of using a block. Similarly, when he began to design ball gowns he used the female form as the "block" for his dresses.
Charles James' self declared "thesis" is the four leaf clover dress. The dresses were constructed through the use of layers of petticoats structured together that were delicately covered with a cream duchesse-satin skirt. The satin skirt itself is the piece which was structured into four petals to create the four leaf clover look. See the cross section and more images of the four leaf clover dress below:
Charles James' dresses usually weighed around 18 pounds but his brilliant designs and engineering made the wearer appear graceful and poised. Another famous design of his is the figure eight dress where fabric actually ran in-between the wearers legs. The result was a pant/dress combination that was easy and comfortable.
While most of us may know him for his dresses, Charles was also sought after for his quilted jackets. In fact, James was technically the inventor of the original "puffer jacket" that we now see everywhere today. His jackets were created using satin and down feathers and were constructed in a way that was very similar to the development of a down comforter.
Charles James is also the only couture designer I can think of that designed couture gowns meant for burlesque shows. The Burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee famously started her shows in Charles James gowns and ended them in her undergarments. A much classier approach if you ask me ; )
The last two designs I think are noteworthy here are the Taxi dress and the unisex pant. While both designs were not as popular as his gowns, they hold their own significance. The taxi dress really portrays his cheeky personality (in my opinion) because it was given its name due to the fact that it could easily be removed in the back of a taxi (James eventually became a permanent resident of New York and was all too familiar with taxi rides). The dress was designed in a spiral shape and was clasped together in the front.
James also spent time studying how the male anatomy would change the design of a pant suit in order to create a pair of unisex pants. While neither of these designs became famous, I still believe they reflect his personality in a brilliant way.
Designs aside, James was an interesting character. Charles James was known for upsetting his clients either by insulting them (ex: refusing to create gowns for women he found to be unattractive) or by charging them multiple times for a creation. Charles James often proclaimed that all of the money in the world was not enough to cover just one of his gowns, and famously sent multiple bills to clients to get what he felt he deserved. Charles also struggled with depression throughout his life and made multiple suicide attempts. Charles was also openly gay but still married (and later divorced) the glamorous Nancy Lee Gregory. Despite being openly gay, many of his close friends swear he was madly in love with Gregory and the two supposedly remained friends after their divorce in 1961.
Charles James retired in 1958 and passed in 1978. The brilliant artist, engineer, and creative soul will be honored at this year's Met Gala from May 8th to August 10th, 2014. On May 5th, you can join the fashion celebrities of the world as they attend the Met Ball through the live stream on style.com. Here's hoping we get to see a runway full of four leaf clover ball gowns!
What Met Gala themes from the past have been your favorite? And which themes would you love to see in the future? Comment below!
*Mexico's Independence day is actually on September 16th. Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican heritage (In US and Mexico) as well as a celebration of the Mexican Army's underdog victory over the French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May fifth 1862.