Master Couturier Charles James: Beyond Fashion, & The 2014 Met Gala

Charles james working

Well, the stars did indeed come out Monday night at the 2014 Met Gala to honor fashion giant Charles James, above. Each year, American Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour hosts The Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This event is The Costume Institute’s main source of annual funding for exhibitions, acquisitions, and capital improvements. Wintour–who co-hosted this year’s party with Sarah Jessica Parker and Bradley Cooper–charged $25,000 a ticket, $10,000 more than last year’s price.

Charles james ballgowns 1948 vogue

The theme was White Tie And Decorations, an ode to fashion designer Charles James (1906-1978), considered by many to be the first, and perhaps the greatest, American couturier. James was a perfectionist with a passion for epic ballgowns which draped elegantly in the most glorious way, like the ones he designed here, pictured above in a 1948 photoshoot for American Vogue.

Charles james with austine hearst

Heralded as The Einstein of Fashion, James created divine gowns for the fashionable elite such as Austine Hearst, wife of William Randolph Hearst, above, pictured here with the designer.

Butterfly gown 1954 on model

James named many of his gowns like the ingenious masterpieces of art that they are, as shown in the Butterfly Dress above, circa 1955. It’s just one example from his unparalleled collection which is still stylish to this day. Couture like this never goes out of fashion.

Butterfly gown 1

Crafted of lavish chocolate silk chiffon, cream silk satin, brown silk satin, and dark brown nylon tulle, the Butterfly Dress completely defies description…

Butterfly gown 2

…and fills you with wonder and amazement at every angle.

Butterfly gown 3

James was born in Britain and launched his career there, but due to his financial escapades that skirted the limits of legality, he found himself no longer welcome in England by 1939. The next year he opened Charles James, Incorporated, at 64 East Fifty-seventh Street in New York City, and began designing collections for Elizabeth Arden. He redesigned her couture collection in 1944 but their relationship dissolved due to disagreements regarding money.

Cj dress and coat

If you haven’t heard of Charles James, there is a most unfortunate reason. Aside from being an unyielding perfectionist, James was also considered to be a difficult egomaniac, and despite his efforts to chronicle his impressive body of work, he died of pneumonia, alone and penniless in New York’s Chelsea Hotel at the age of 72, a broken man.

James was described by friend Sir Francis Rose as “temperamental, artistic, and blessed even in childhood with the ability to escape the mundane chores of life–like a trapeze artist.”

Cj 1955

Although he began his career as a milliner in England, his forté was high fashion, and he did it well. Each gown was unique in its own splendor, like this black and emerald gown he created in 1955.

Cj 1948

His designs were lavishly and painstakingly crafted from the finest fabrics and with an almost unfathomable attention to detail. The dress above, designed in 1948, was no exception.

Cj pink dress

Glamour was his genre, with a bit of scandal thrown in for amusement, as seen in the pink wonder above, which features the most breathtaking pleating and a playful, brightly-colored underskirt, one of his distinct trademarks.

Life mag

A virtuoso of drapery and detail, Charles James was in a league of his own and rivaled by none. Above, his designs were featured circa 1950 in Life Magazine.

Cj four leaf clover gown with petal stole 1955

The Four-Leaf Clover Gown, above, is teamed with his Petal Stole.

Mrs charles james 1955

And above is a photograph of his wife Nancy in 1955, wearing his brilliantly beguiling Swan Gown.

Guests for the 2014 Met Gala were supposed to honor the late couturier by donning high-end vintage couture looks, such as ballgowns and long gloves.

The Met Gala is like the Oscars of fashion, fit for the most stylish celebs and socialites. And a handful of stars did, in fact, shine beautifully bright, and as always, some did not.

Sjp 2

Sarah Jessica Parker, you always nail it, and this time, you do so in custom Oscar de la Renta and opera length gloves.

Jean p in petal dress

This dress was clearly inspired by Charles James’s Petal Gown, pictured above in a 1951 issue of Vogue magazine.


We love you Sarah darling!!!

Ivanka in oscar

Ivanka Trump trumped just about everyone in this regal chartreuse Oscar de la Renta brocade gown, reminiscent of James’s creations, with a giant bow on the back and a dramatic fishtail train. Her hair is ala Audrey Hepburn. True style. Celebs take note: This is how you dress for a gala!


Naomi Campbell arrived in a confection of white with convertible ostrich-feathered sleeves from Italian designer Riccardo Tisci. This, my friends, is glamour.

Blake lively

Blake Lively looked luscious wearing custom Gucci in a delicate rose gold hue.

Donatella Versace sparkled in a golden-flecked ombre olive gown with a fitted bodice.

Liu Wen in Zac

I absolutely adore Zac Posen, and supermodel Liu Wen possesses the perfect stature for this dramatic teal ball gown he designed. A stacked diamond necklace would have elevated this look from beautiful to breathtaking.

Sarah silverman in zac

More Zac Posen! Sarah Silverman stunned in rich scarlet. But without a necklace and gloves, the look is less glam.

Lupita 2

I admire and respect celebs that take a risk when they dress for an event, and Lupita Nyong’o looked divine in this emerald Prada ensemble.

Lupita 3

It’s more costume than couture you must admit, and certainly does not adhere to the theme of the night, but at least she’s not dressed like Cara Delevinge.

Cara delevinge in stella

Hello Cara Delevinge? Earth to Cara? Did you not read the invitation? Stella McCartney is one of my favorite designers, but girl, you missed the point of this gala entirely. It’s a tribute to Charles James, my dear.

Cara and reese

At $25,000 a ticket, dressing well is a form of good manners. Go to your car and change clothes now. Maybe Reese Witherspoon can help you. You look ridiculous in that cropped halter top.

Reese in stella

Speaking of Reese, above, she also wore Stella McCartney…but she, however, looks appropriate.

Rihanna in stella mccartney

There’s no question that Rihanna has the bod for this Stella McCartney dress…but again, here’s another celeb who doesn’t get the theme for the evening. It’s Old Hollywood Glam, not Sunset Stripper.

Stella tennant
Check out model Stella Tennant, above. She’s a vision in a grey, ostrich-skirted gown and delicate silver accessories.

Depp in RL Amber Heard in Giambattista V

Amber Heard was a slinky sensation in this pale, gold lace Giambattista Vali gown. Unfortunately she is clueless regarding the theme of the gala. Don’t get me wrong–it’s a beautiful dress, yet infinitely too modern…but with an accessory like Johnny Depp on her arm, we will let the infraction slide…this time.

Dita and zac

Dita Von Teese, right, is in Zac Posen. Here she poses with the designer. This dress oozes glamour and the fit is impeccable.

Dita in zac

And here Dita is, solo, with her hair in Hollywood waves and perfect makeup and accessories.

Jay Z and Beyonce in Givenchy Haute C

Jay-Z and Beyoncé made a breathtaking pair in Givenchy…but miss the mark on the theme for the evening.

Rubin singer

Sloan and Roger Barnett, in Rubin Singer couture, are pictured here en route to the gala. Sloan is spell-binding in a custom-designed pale blush gown. The dress was made of luscious double face silk satin, silk organza & panels of pearlized leather! The silk satin skirt and bust were lavishly hand-embroidered with hundreds of large swirling Swarovski crystals according to Rubin. Roger’s white tie decorations were also created by Rubin. Now here is a designer who gets the theme of the gala!


Supermodel Karolina Kurkova wore an indigo-hued gown with a painterly floral print. The two-tiered gown is a spring 2011 from Marchesa, but expertly captures the Golden Years of Hollywood. This is true couture.

Rita ora

Rita Ora, above, wears a gown with cascades of ecru tulle, by Donna Karan Atelier. The look is quite vintage, and the Casadei gladiator heels bring the look into the now. Actually, I love it!

Rosie huntington whitely

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley struck out with this short Balmain dress. Not a fan. Sorry, Rosie.

Karlie kloss in odrenta

Karlie Kloss looked divine in this Oscar de la Renta…With long black leather gloves and impeccable hair and makeup, she is quite appropriate for the occasion.

Charlize theron

Charlize Theron wore a Dior Couture gown with a tuxedo jacket, Jimmy Choo sandals and Fred Leighton jewelry. Pure elegance.

Suki waterhouse

Suki Waterhouse wore Burberry and looked positively gorgeous!

Charles James: Beyond Fashion is an exhibit honoring the late designer with his authentic garments on display. No doubt an intriguing chapter in fashion history, it opens tonight at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and runs through August 10, 2014.

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