Charles James Who? 7 Things to Know About the Met Gala's Featured Designer

05/01/2014 at 10:30 AM ET

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala is swiftly approaching (it’s Monday!) and there are two key questions to be answered. One: What will everyone be wearing? And two: Um, who is Charles James and why is he so important that he gets his own exhibit?

Charles James FashionEliot Elisofon/Time & Life Pictures/Getty(2)

It’s strange that someone as influential and game-changing as James has all but vanished from many people’s fashion vocabulary. So we did our homework to bring you all the must-know info about this incredibly talented couturier. Here are some the important facts to memorize before Monday’s big event:

James actually began his career as a milliner: Before he was creating mind-blowing ball gowns, the designer created hats for Chicago’s high-fashion ladies. He used a friend’s surname, Boucheron, because his father did not approve of fashion and didn’t want the family name on James’s creations. The fancy French name was just for flair.

He would stand by his designs: Well, actually, he would stand in them. Charles was known to take home his creations and wear them while he danced around his apartment all night long.

RELATED PHOTOS: All the gorgeous dresses from last year’s Met Gala!

His designs were quite elaborate: The most famous piece James created, the Four-Leaf Clover, was constructed from 30 pattern pieces and divided into four quadrants which, while viewing from the top, looked like the plant it was named after.

Perfectionist is an understatement:
It was said that he once spent $20,000 and three years to execute a flawless sleeve. (Not to mention he would train his clients how to move, sit and dance in every piece.)

If you thought the words of Karl Lagerfeld were harsh, think again: “I couldn’t possibly make anything for a frump like you,” the Countess of Rosse recalls him saying to a friend of hers. “Why, you can’t even walk properly!”

You’ve probably worn one of his designs without knowing:
Believe it or not, James was credited for creating pieces we wear every day! The infinity scarf, wrap dress (also known as the Taxi dress) and down jacket all started as James creations.

Other designers wanted to be him:
James grabbed the attention of many others in the industry for his unique and intricate creations. Cristóbal Balenciaga was quoted saying, “[Charles is] the only one in the world who has raised dressmaking from an applied art to a pure art.”

So though the fashion house of Charles James has passed from the knowledge of most (probably due to the fact that he wasn’t the best businessman), we still have his concepts and gowns that have influenced and continue to inspire today’s modern designers.

Do you think you would have worn one of his creations or would you have selected something a little less avant-garde? Let us know in the comments below!

–John Soper

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Rose on

I just looked at all the pictures of his gowns and they are beyond amazing!!!! I want one just wear around my house and clean in! Lol very beautiful.

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