China: Through The Looking Glass
Is Another Costume Institute Hit

You have seen all of the slinky, see-through gowns and crazy headpieces from the Met Ball, but sometimes the actual exhibition that is being celebrated can get lost in all that partying. Not this year. While it is a challenge for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to keep topping itself with its blockbuster spring shows, this year Curator Andrew Bolton has pulled out all the stops with China: Through The Looking Glass, its collaboration with the Met's Department of Asian Art which opens this Friday. The Shophound got a preview on Monday, and we can't wait to go back to see it again. Since being announced last year, the show has undergone a title change (formerly Chinese Whispers: Tales of the East in Art, Film & Fashion) and expanded to 30,000 square feet including both the Anna Wintour Costume Center galleries as well as the entire Chinese galleries on the museum's second floor. The whopping show, unprecedented for the Costume Institute, is about three times the size of the department's typical spring shows according to Bolton, and its expansiveness is justified by some of the most striking installations the museum has ever seen. The celebrated Chinese director Wong Kar Wai served as the show's creative director, and his input is felt in the mesmerizing, cinematic way the exhibition unfolds with a deliberately disorienting "Through The Looking Glass" sense of fantasy. Each section is punctuated with carefully selected film clips ranging from Cinema's first Asian screen goddess, Anna May Wong, who had to move to Europe to escape steroptyped roles in American movies, to Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor, to clips from Mr. Wong's own classic films like The Grandmaster and those of his contemporaries like Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers and Raise The Red Lantern to a jaw dropping clip from Vincente Minelli's 1946 Ziegfeld Follies featuring Fred Astaire in a Chinese inspired dance number that is only slightly less offensive than his famous blackface "Bojangles" tribute in Swing Time —but that's really what the show is about. It's not just the spectacular Chinese-inspired gowns and jewels that are the showpieces, but the ongoing interplay of Chinese aesthetic filtered through Western sensibilities that creates a fantasy of China that has been constructed by both sides equally. Rather than seeing a bastardization of pure Chinese culture, which has been a common point of view of politically correct scholars in recent decades, Bolton and his collaborators take the often highly commercialized fantasy vision of China as its own form of artistic expression that leaves room to discuss things that have rightly raised the hackles of many Chinese like Fred Astaire in truly dreadful "Oriental" makeup, or the controversy created when Yves Saint Laurent named his blockbuster perfume Opium, romanticizing not just addiction but the Opium Wars of the mid 19th Century.
Ultimately, it's doubtful that Saint Laurent's perfume got anyone addicted to narcotics, and the curators leave the abundance of dazzling images they present up to the viewers' own interpretations —and dazzling they are. In some ways, the show focuses on some of the usual suspects, devoting an entire room to Saint Laurent's lavish 1977 Chinese-inspired Haute Couture collection and filling the now darkened and spooky Astor Court with pieces from John Galliano's extravagant 2003 Haute Couture collection for Dior. There is plenty from those two, who may have the most pieces in the show along with famous looks from Alexander McQueen, Chanel, Valentino, BalenciagaRalph Lauren, and several pieces by Tom Ford YSL that paid homage to the '77 Haute Couture collection. Vivienne Tam's ironic Mao-printed dresses are also given prominent exposure (pictured in the gallery below), but the real discovery is Chinese designer Guo Pei whose gilded ballgown commands a room full of Buddha sculptures all by itself, and who has already been lifted to a new level of cultural significance by dressing Rhianna at the ball on Monday night.
Ultimately the exhibition is more than the sum of its parts. British designer Craig Green's black and white warrior outfits might not mean quite as much if they weren't placed in a breathtaking forest of perspex stalks meant to represent bamboo in a room devoted to Wuxia or "Martial Hero" films (pictured above). Over that past few years, the Costume Institute has tackled themes like Punk and Superheroes with mixed results that often seemed either forced or facile, but this time, they hit the right balance of breathtaking images with depth and history underneath for visitors to find. Plan your visit carefully, and prepare for some long lines. China: Through The Looking Glass has raised the bar again for the Costume Institute's annual blockbusters.

China: Through The Looking Glass starts Friday May 7 through August 16th at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, Upper East Side

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Jacqueline de Ribes To Be The Subject Of Next Fall's Costume Institute Show

Jacqueline de Ribes 2If you can think past this Spring's upcoming Chinese extravaganza at The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, then mark your calendars for next November when it the Anna Wintour Costume Institute galleries will be devoted to the legendary French aristocrat and socialite Jacqueline, Comtesse de Ribes.
Get ready to gaze at some spectacular couture.
Though her profile has been lowered in recent years, Comtesse de Ribes, now age 85 (though, to her, it would probably be most unseemly to discuss such things),  is a socialite of the old school who was a central fixture on the international social scene for decades through the 1990s. Born into nobility, she is the sort of woman who was raised to wear haute couture, and wear it she did, becoming a muse to designers like Guy Laroche, Valentino, and, most prominently Yves Saint Laurent in the days when being a muse meant being a good customer, rather than signing an endorsement contract. Her comings and goings were chronicled by social columns and publications like WWD and the original broadsheet version of W, and she has been considered one of the world's best dressed women for most of her adult life. A muse not only to designers, her elegant profile has been photographed by Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and pretty much any other photographer of note in the 20th century.
She was famous enough for her style to launch her own prêt-à-porter collection in 1983, giving her the opportunity to become her own best model as in the image above. Always an expensive niche label for the most exclusive stores, the line continued for 11 years until 1994 when she closed it citing health concerns.
Sadly, there is no gala party planned for the opening of her exhibition, as her appearances at Met Balls were among the most anticipated, especially during the pre-Vogue sponsorship era when it was really the party of the year for New York's social set before it was hijacked by Hollywood. Instead, we will get a glimpse into the wardrobe of a woman whose style helped develop some of the world's greatest designers.

The Met's Costume Institute to Spotlight Jacqueline de Ribes (WWD)


See The Dazzling Jewels Of
Treasures From India At The Met

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To be perfectly honest, The Shophound doesn't need much of any kind of excuse to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the museum has been particularly generous in inviting us to preview its upcoming exhibits this month. This week's visit concerned Treasures from India: Jewels from the Al-Thani Collection the small but remarkable exhibition of Imperial Indian jewels from the collection originally formed by Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani of Quatar. The exhibition features a carefully curated selection of pieces from the Mughal period in the 17th Century to contemporary pieces. More than just a collection of brooches and necklaces, it is a fascinating look into the lavish ornamentation of Indian court life, where it was the men rather than the women who were festooned with gemstones including daggers and swords, turban ornaments, anklets, nose rings and  basically any other possible vehicle for wearing jewels. There are items passed down through generations of emperors as well as newer pieces, but take it as an opportunity to Marvel over some of the mind boggling treasures that can be produced from vast, dynastic wealth from a bygone era. After all, where else are you going to see a headpiece made from enormous diamonds linked together with hand wrought golden bands decorated with huge ruby drops for good measure? (Have a look at a few of the pieces in the gallery above) Put it on your list of things to catch at the Met. This month we have already been treated to the Leonard A. Lauder collection of Cubist masterpieces, Death Becomes Her at the Costume Institute and now this lavish display of Imperial Indian splendor. Block out an afternoon and head up to the Met. It will be time well spent.

Treasures from India: Jewels from the Al-Thani Collection through January 25th, 2015 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, Upper East Side


The Costume Institute's "Death Becomes Her" Is Now Strangely Timely

There is no possible way it could have been planned, but the Costume Institute's new exhibition, Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire has suddenly taken on new significance. There's a strange sort of symmetry in having New York's pre-eminent fashion museum opening a major exhibition dedicated to the elaborate traditions of mourning attire one day after Oscar de la Renta, "the doyen of American fashion" as he was described in the New York Times, passed away at 82. It's almost as if the Costume Institute has taken on the mantle of designated mourner for the entire fashion industry who is, at the moment, feeling the loss of a particularly beloved, towering figure.

DeathBecomesHer-AOf course, there are no Oscar de la Renta dresses in Death Becomes Her. It covers traditions of mourning that faded about a century ago, and at yesterday's preview, the sad news of his death had not yet reached the public, so visitors were more concerned with the elegant but often macabre issues at hand, mainly the highly codified rules of dress imposed on those who had lost loved ones, and the disproportionate responsibilities (and expense) placed on women to express their grief through clothes. Exactly why Western society in the 19th Century was so obsessed with death remains unclear. Possibly it was just the fact that people died younger then, and medicine was unable to treat illnesses that are now curable. Perhaps part of it had to do with bloody conflicts like the Civil War which brought mass casualties to the U.S. or maybe it was the example of Queen Victoria, who went into mourning after the death of her husband Prince Albert in 1861 and didn't come out of it until her own death 40 years later. DeathBecomesHer-2A monarch in perpetual widows weeds, one dress of whose is prominently included in the show (pictured above left), could really cast a pall in the 1800s, and in contrast to Victoria's steadfast display of grief, the exhibition includes two lavishly sequined gowns worn (at right) by her daughter-in-law Queen Alexandra during the later stages of mourning when lighter colors like mauve and lavender were officially allowed and seem to presage the end of elaborately dour mourning dress rules. In contrast to the stark, mostly black silhouettes on display, they hardly seem like mourning wear at all —even by modern standards. The exhibition, curated by Harold Koda, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute along with Assistant Curator Jessica Regan goes beyond merely presenting the silhouettes of the day rendered in a range of black materials to show how clothes contained specific information and spoke to people. A series of prints on display by Charles Dana Gibson gently satirizes how an attractive woman in mourning was often seen as threatening disruption to polite society, carrying a host of unspoken fears and desires that becomes so weighty she winds up fleeing to a nunnery for her own peace of mind. 

DeathBecomesHer-BDeath Becomes Her is the Costume Institute's first Fall show at the Met in seven years, but now that the Anna Wintour Costume Center is finished, we can now expect two shows a year there in the future. Taking advantage of the time of year, the Met has organized a special Halloween event on October 31st, and the gift counters on the edge of the exhibition room have cobbled together jet jewelry, Victorian period-inspired items and books ranging from macabre-themed art volumes to Edward Gorey's darkly humorous picture books. Given the surprising turn of recent events, however, the show's elegant mannequins now seem to form a silent tribute of sorts to New York most elegant designer, at least until the Costume Institute announces its own Oscar de la Renta show which, if past form holds, is likely to happen within the next year or so.

Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire through February 1, 2005 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, Upper East Side


What Lipstick Can Buy
—Go See Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection At The Metropolitan Museum

It is pretty well known that the cosmetics department is the foundation (no pun intended) for nearly every major department store in both volume and profits, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art is about to demonstrate just what some of those profits can do for one of the world's greatest museums and New York City itself. Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection opens Monday at the Met (currently in Members Previews) and is an extraordinary collection of artworks by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Juan Gris and Fernand Léger that became a promised gift to the museum last year. Mr. Lauder's art holdings have long been known to be among the world's finest, and at yesterday's press preview the cosmetics scion was on hand himself to explain how he started the collection in the mid-1970s specifically to fill a gap in the Met's modern art collection and also to give something monumental not only to what he feels is the greatest museum in the world and but also to the city that has given so much to his family.

Mr. Lauder's family is nearly as well known for its philanthropy as it is for the beauty brand that bears its name, but this may be the greatest example yet of his support for the arts in part because of the incredible quality of the works, all of which are being displayed together for the first time even as he continues to add to them. Picasso, Braque, Gris and Léger made Cubism the most influential art movement of the 20th Century, freeing artists from traditional representation in paintings and sowing the seeds for the profusion of modernist styles that followed including pure abstraction and pop. Lauder revealed that his criteria for creating the collection was only to include works that were so important that the museum would want to keep them on prominent display at all times, using masterpieces like the Louvre's Winged Victory of Samothrace or Van Gogh's The Starry Night at the MoMA as examples, and it looks like he has succeeded. While Cubism as an art movement has been around for over a century, it can still be challenging and often inscrutable to viewers who sometimes still struggle to find images in cubist paintings that their titles tell them are there. The exhibition is beautifully composed to also be an incredible educational experience, illuminating the sometimes mysterious paintings and demonstrating how the style developed through key examples of Picasso's and Braque's collaborations and was further refined by Gris and finally ending with the  glorious Composition (The Typographer) by Léger. If you walk in thinking that Cubism can be a cold and overly intellectual style of art, you will walk out of the exhibition with a completely different view, and it may even make you think for an extra minute about which brand of lipstick to buy when you are in the makeup department.

Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection from October 20th, 2014 to Feruary 16th, 2015 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, Upper East Side


The Costume Institute Will Take A Voyage To China This Spring

It is not uncommon for a widow to go on an extravagant trip to lift her spirits after she has completed an appropriate period of mourning, so it is somehow fitting that after this Fall's upcoming exhibition, Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire, The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is planning a grand tour of China with Chinese Whispers: Tales of the East in Art, Film, and Fashion. In a statement, Andrew Bolton, Curator in The Costume Institute who is organizing the exhibition tells us, 

“From the earliest period of European contact with China in the 16th century, the West has been enchanted with enigmatic objects and imagery from the East, providing inspiration for fashion designers from Paul Poiret to Yves Saint Laurent, whose fashions are infused at every turn with fantasy, romance, and nostalgia. In an intricate process of translation and mistranslation similar to the game of ‘Telephone’–which the British call ‘Chinese Whispers’–designers conjoin disparate stylistic references into a fantastic pastiche of Chinese aesthetic and cultural traditions.”

The Costume Institute will be joining forces with Met's Department of Asian Art for the exhibition which will be spread over several parts of the Museum —the first time since 2006 that it has teamed up with another curatorial department. The different sections will start in The Anna Wintour Costume Center’s Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery which will feature, as the Met tells us, "a series of 'whispers' or conversations through time and space, focusing on Imperial China; Nationalist China, especially Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s; and Communist China, with an emphasis on changing images of Chairman Mao'. Scenes from films by noted Chinese directors like will provide extra illustration, and Chinese "women of style" such as Madame Wellington Koo, Madame Chiang Kai-shek (Soong May-Ling), and Empress Dowager Cixi will be spotlighted.
Upstairs, in the Chinese Galleries, visitors will find fashion from the 18th century to the present displayed with Chinese decorative arts, and then, in the Astor Court, the exhibition will turn to Chinese opera. The performer Mei Lanfang will be highlighted, and ensembles from John Galliano's lavish Spring 2003 Haute Couture collection for Christian Dior which he inspired will be displayed along with Mr. Mei's original costumes.
The show looks to be one of the Costume Institute's most ambitious undertakings to date, and the museum is turning to acclaimed Chinese film director Wong Kar Wai and his longtime collaborator William Chang for artistic direction in creating the wide-ranging exhibition. Mr. Wong will also design the 2015 Costume Institute Gala Benefit that traditionally kicks off the Spring exhibitions. Hong Kong born fashion and business mogul Silas Chou will be the ball's Honorary Chair with co-chairs Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, Chinese film star Gong Li, Yahoo! president and CEO Marissa Mayer, Wendi (formerly Mrs. Rupert) Murdoch, and Met Ball stalwart Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue and artistic director of Condé Nast. The exhibition opens to the public on May 7, 2015, so mark your calendar, and look for an explosion of cclebrity chinoiserie at the Met Ball on the 4th.

Chinese Whispers: Tales of the East in Art, Film, and Fashion (Metropolitan Museum of Art Press Release)


This Weekend Is Your Last Chance To See The Costume Institute's Blockbuster Charles James Show

There was a little question in the air this past May when The Costume Institute opened its current but soon to close exhibition Charles James: Beyond Fashion: Would visitors be lured in by a major exhibition's scholarly take on a revered designer despite his being little known outside of hard-core fashion circles?
The answer, as it turns out is a resounding yes.
Faring better than recent high-concept shows at the Met like 2013's Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations and 2012's Punk: Chaos to Couture, this show will end up as the 5th most visited at the Costume Institute in the past 25 years according to the New York Times. Stellar reviews certainly did their part, but word of mouth about the ingeniously designed exhibition that literally takes the viewer inside the designer's lavish gowns is likely what put visitor levels over the top.

If you haven't managed to get yourself to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see it yet, then you still have a few days left to catch it. The exhibition closes on Sunday, August 10th, so get a move on. Luckily, thanks to the completion of the Anna Wintour Costume Center, we won't have to wait until next May for the a new show. Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire will open on October 21st. That's about two and a half months away, so mark your calendars.

Charles James: Beyond Fashion through August 10th at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, Upper East Side
New Looks: The Costume Institute Cleanses The Palate With Charles James: Beyond Fashion At The Metropolitan Museum


The Costume Institute Will Wear Widows' Weeds For The Fall

MourningEnsemble1870-72The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has officially announced that their next exhibition will focus on the tradition of mourning clothes. If you are thinking that that will make for a very somber Met Ball, don't worry. Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire (Not to be confused with the 1992 Robert Zemeckis film Death Becomes Her about the quest for eternal youth starring Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep) will open on October 21, well before the next gala. Since the opening of the newly renovated Anna Wintour Costume Center earluier this year, the Costume Institiute will once again be mounting two shows a year, and this one will be the museums first fall show since 2007. You can be sure that when the next gala rolls around, the theme will be somewhat more festive.

And speaking of the show, don't presume that it will necessarily be a downer. Curated by Harold Koda, the Institute's Curator in Charge along with Assistant Curator Jessica Regan, Death Becomes Her will chronicle 100 years of mourning dress from 1815 to 1915 allowing it to easily cover, among several other periods, the death-obsessed Victorian Era. The show will be designed to offer more than just sociological insight, and there's a lot more than weeping involved. “The predominantly black palette of mourning dramatizes the evolution of period silhouettes and the increasing absorption of fashion ideals into this most codified of etiquettes,” says Koda,  “The veiled widow could elicit sympathy as well as predatory male advances.  As a woman of sexual experience without marital constraints, she was often imagined as a potential threat to the social order."

Like the current Charles James show, the upcoming exhibition will allow for greater display of the museum's costume collection than in the past few years, and will include mourning gowns worn by both Queen Victoria and her daughter-in-law, Queen Alexandra, who, as royals, had a great influence on the mourning traditions of their times. So don't expect just a dour parade of dreary dresses. This Fall, the Costume Institute will use a little death to tell us more about life.


See Photographer Garry Winogrand's Chronicle Of Mid-Century America

Are you all shopped out now?
Have you been to every possible sample sale at this point?
Tired of looking at all that Spring merchandise in the stores and not ready to see Pre-Fall this ealry in the Summer?
This would be an excellent weekend to catch the new photography exhibition, Garry Winogrand at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Opening today, the show collects more than 175 of the prolific photographer’s works including famous images you will recognize as well as new prints pulled from proof sheets that the photographer himself was never able to fully realize, and even over 6,000 rolls of film that he never got a chance to develop before his untimely death at age 56. While Winogrand is recognized as one of the major figures of 20th Century photography, his early death turned attention toward some of his more famous contemporaries, and vast portions of his work have remained relatively unexplored —even by close associates— until now. The show’s curators sifted through troves of his archives, developing that film and re-editing proof sheets, to select and in several cases present for the first time works that give a richer understanding of his body of work. Fashion fans will easily notice the strong influence the Winogrand's spontaneous method has had on contemporary fashion photographers (Bruce Weber and Arthur Elgort immediately came to The Shophound's mind)

If that all sounds too highfalutin, don’t be discouraged. Rather than working in a studio, the Bronx-born Winogrand made a point of photographing real people wherever he might find them, which means everywhere, all the time. Every one of Winogrand’s prints catches an arresting moment in real life, whether it’s a couple motoring down Park Avenue in a convertible with a monkey in the back seat, or some particularly festive revelers at the Metropolitan Museum’s Centennial Ball in 1969 (pictured above). The zoo, the beach, a bus, a protest rally or a rodeo were all fertile ground for material. Still, his photos still center more on people and whatever their experiences may have been at the moment he caught them rather than their surroundings, however historically significant they may be. New Yorkers in particular will appreciate an abundance of images taken in the city between 1950 and 1971, giving us glimpses of life in a familiar place at very different times.

Of course, that’s not all that’s going on at the Met. If you haven’t yet seen the Charles James exhibition at the Costume Institute, then it’s a good opportunity to catch a double header of two great shows, as well as an impressive Wall Drawing by Sol LeWitt currently being installed for a formal unveiling this Monday.
So take a day off from the shops. Your wallet will probably thank you, although there is that Museum Store....

Garry Winogrand starts today and runs through September 21 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street Upper East Side
See a few more selections from the exhibition in the gallery below

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The Costume Institute Cleanses The Palate With Charles James: Beyond Fashion At The Metropolitan Museum

There are a few reasons why The newest Costume Institute exhibition Charles James: Beyond Fashion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a Big Deal. The Shophound got a preview of the show yesterday, and anyone who has been nonplussed by some of the thematic extravaganzas the Museum has presented over the past few years might be surprised and will probably be pleased by the focused, streamlined and, yes, even scholarly show that opens to the public on Friday. The show is not without its own flash, but this time it takes the form of illuminating high-tech displays that take you literally inside the garments.

Last night's celebrity laden Gala was extra momentous because it also celebrated the debut of the Costume Institute's newly renovated facilities and galleries now renamed The Anna Wintour Costume Center after the Vogue EIC and Condé Nast Artistic Director. While there has been no end of press commentary about the honor given to one of the Museum's most effective fundraisers, the results of the renovation are a success. The Costume galleries —still downstairs, through Ancient Egypt— have shed their serpentine configuration for a larger, more open room allowing for more flexibility in exhibition design. This is where our preview started, with a section of the show features multiple examples of James' less dramatic but no less technically accomplished coats, day clothes and shorter cocktail dresses. It's a fairly traditionally styled display (see it in the gallery below), until you notice that several pieces are accompanied by 3-dimensional animated computer schematics that take the designer's patterns and show how they have been be manipulated into the often deceptively simple garments on display, unveiling James' intricate construction techniques. It turns out that this is actually a show for fashion nerds who are every bit as interested in how things are made as who wore them and how glamorous they looked, even if his regular clients included luminaries like Babe Paley, Gypsy Rose Lee, Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, Millicent Rogers and more. Interestingly, a smaller gallery contains selections from James' archives including sketches, notes, scrapbooks and other memorabilia including a typed list entitled, “CLIENTS WHOM I WOULD HAVE LIKED TO DRESS...SOMETIMES COULD HAVE BUT DID NOT” which included pointed commentaries on various personages. What a pity that Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, Maria Callas and Greta Garbo missed out on being dressed by James. It certainly might have rescued him from the obscurity he fell into toward the end of his life if he had a little bit more celebrity appeal. By the same token, one wonders what he might have dreamed up if he had the opportunity to work with David Bowie, Gertrude Stein and Mick Jagger.

The section downstairs prepares us for what is more likely to be the beginning of the exhibition for most visitors. The show's main flaw is that it is separated into two, unfortunately far-flung sections. The next part is clear across the museum on the main floor in the Special Exhibition Galleries. Traveling is an annoyance, but it's worth the excursion to see the meat of the exhibition, an amazing collection of the dramatic ball gowns that Charles James is known for —at least by those who know him at all. Again, restraint, serves the show well here. Instead of trying to recreate the famous Cecil Beaton photo that has become the show's poster, the gowns are placed far apart on large, circular platforms and spot-lit in a darkened room devoid of decor except for mirrored walls printed with quotes from James (pictured above). The stark tableau is impressive enough, but get closer to each garment and discover each one paired with its own video screen that scrolls from a detailed description of the particular gown style and possibly its original owner to more computer renderings and X-ray images paired with projections on to the dresses themselves revealing the inner structures that add lightness to shapes that one would think should be cumbersome. Never has a Costume Institute show used technology to such an arresting effect. Charles James: Beyond Fashion may not have the glitz appeal of Punk or Superheroes, or the timely, elegiac overtones of the Alexander McQueen exhibition, but it shows that the Costume Institute can get serious and scholarly without getting boring.

Charles James: Beyond Fashion from May 8 through August 10 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, Upper East Side

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