Ask anyone that knows me; I’m not the one to read memoirs or really any non-fiction easily. I find them dense and hard to get into, and I’d much rather get my info through a good Google search. I had the opportunity to read Joan Juliet Buck’s memoir, The Price of Illusion way before it was published, but my aversion to such literature kept me from it until about a month ago. I was having a conversation with the editor and the subject of fashion came up. He told me that if I loved fashion, I would LOVE this memoir. Much like how Joan turned down the position of Editor-in-Chief of Paris Vogue several times (three?), I had run out of excuses.
For those of you who tend to shy away from memoirs, I completely understand. They’re not your thing; they’re generally not mine either. But one thing I learned from working in publishing is that there’s always an exception (life lessons!). And sometimes you need to put down your prejudices, stop making excuses, and just read. Because that book that is not your genre, that book that is out of your norm…well, it just might surprise you. And, you might learn something.
Hands down, this memoir is fabulous, and it reads like a narrative. At times I had to reminding myself that it was non-fiction and that all of the characters are (were) in fact real people. Not only was Joan Juliet Buck the Editor-in-Chief of Paris Vogue for seven years, but she was the ONLY American to do it. Her life reads like a bit of a fairytale where fashion and Hollywood big shots intersect. From her producer father (Jules Buck) to her childhood ‘sister’ (Angelica Houston) to her friendships with Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, and the then unknown Christian Louboutin – Joan has lived an enchanting life. For all my fashion friends out there…you must read this. Immediately. And let me know what you think. And, since tonight is the annual Met Gala ball, it’s the perfect time to start!
This past weekend, I went to see the new fashion exhibit at the Met, Charles James: Beyond Fashion. With the recent renovations to the Costume Institute and renaming to the Anna Wintour Costume Center, the exhibit was truly amazing. First and foremost, I love the fact that the exhibit was held in two different spaces, on two different floors, and on opposite sides of the museum. It broke it up allowing for double the enjoyment, and gets visitors to take in more of the museum as opposed to just the fashion exhibit. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for going to the Met to view special exhibits, but even when I waited in line for an hour and a half for Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (to then be in the exhibit for another hour), I still made a point to see more of the museum…but that’s coming from someone who can spend hours walking around in there.
Another aspect of the exhibit that I really liked was the staging of it. I remember from the McQueen, how there was so much packed into multiple rooms, and how it felt a bit closed in (perhaps partially because of the mass amount of people), but James was different. Both the upstairs and downstairs galleries were open and airy. The gowns and clothing displayed in such ways that you could see them from different angles if not walk all the way around them. There are also monitors for many of the pieces which show the painstaking steps that were taken to create these works of art. I only watched a few as they didn’t catch my eye as much as the clothing, but they were fascinating.
Then there were the garments themselves. They. Were. Fabulous. Breathtaking, really. It was hard to pick out just one favorite, although his Four Leaf Clover ball gown was definitely in the top five for me.
Charles James was a truly great couturier, but part of what makes him so amazing was that he was a perfectionist. I, who sometimes walk away from my writing mid-sentence because I just cannot find the right word, can completely understand. Part of this could be due to the fact that James started off as a milliner, and carried-on that approach into his clothing. He even went so far as spending years on one dress until it was exactly what he had envisioned. According to Voguepedia, he was even known to “don a finished gown and dance all night in his apartment above the Chelsea Hotel before handing it over…if he handed it over at all.” I could go on and on, but really, the exhibit speaks for itself. Charles James: Beyond Fashion opened at the Met just last week and will be on display through August 10th. I caught it opening weekend, but I will definitely be there many more times.
As the fashion obsessed person that I am, my love for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Met Gala should come as no shock. Every year, I scour social media and the internet (mostly Vogue) to find images of the event, gasping in utter amazement at the gowns and tuxedos that are worn by those who attend…dreaming of a day that I will get to attend. This year, with the Met’s new fashion exhibit, Charles James: Beyond Fashion opening today in the Anna Wintour Costume Center (formerly the Costume Institute), and the dress code for the gala being white tie, I knew I was in for a rare treat.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with the rules of a white tie dress code don’t fret because I wasn’t clear on them either. I knew what white tie was, I just didn’t know that that was the name of it. The rules for men are much stricter than women, who aside from having to wear full length dresses (ie ball gowns) have no other restrictions with the exception of white opera length gloves, an accessory that is not always required. Men, on the other hand, have to get decked out, from evening tailcoats, white bow ties and white low-cut waistcoats, down to the type of shoes (court pumps or Oxfords) and socks (silk). In other words, this is the most formal dress code and not something that you see every day. If you still can’t picture it, think about the Victorian Era, think about Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, think about the formal dances that took place in that time period. If that doesn’t help you, google pictures from this year’s Met Gala and you will immediately know what I’m talking about.
Beginning in 1971, the Met Gala continues to serve as both a fundraiser for the Costume Institute and the opening of the annual fashion exhibit. It is considered to be more prestigious than the Oscars and is mainly invitation only with individual tickets that are rare and boast a hefty price tag. This year, tickets were $25,000 per person. The new exhibit, Charles James: Beyond Fashion examines Charles James, an American couturier best known for his ball gowns (hence the white tie dress code) and will be open at the Met through August 10th. I haven’t even gotten there yet, but already I am in love…and I feel this is worthy of purchasing an exhibition catalogue (I have not purchased one since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty back in 2011).