Mathematics and Fashion: Charles James at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

When you think about evening gowns, mathematics may not be the first think that comes to mind, but Charles James used geometry and engineering to design his stunning sculptural creations. In 1944, Vogue Magazine referred to his “Mathematical tailoring”.
The Metropolitan Museum has devised an exhibition that celebrates the mathematical structures of James’ work using technology to enhance the viewer experience. Robotic arms with cameras and video recorders present close-up details of structural elements of the gowns. X-rays provide an inside glimpse at the architectural support systems. Computer models provide 360 degree topological maps of the twists, spirals, and folds incorporated into the fashion. Unfortunately it was very dark in the gallery and impossible to take photos but the Metropolitan Museum has a great website with videos and images at metmuseum.org. I have included two of my favorite dresses.

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Charles James – Four leaf clover dress

The evening dress “Four Leaf Clover”  features a hyperbolic curve for a sweeping skirt.

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Charles James – Spiral Dress

The green satin Spiral dress incorporates a spiral of fabric that seems to flow directly back into itself creating an Moebius strip that encircles the wearer.

There are many other examples in the exhibition of the complex geometry utilized to design these creations. Throughout his career James was also involved with teaching other designers to use his mathematical techniques. He invented his own schematic dress forms and mannequins that are also on display at the museum.

The engineering nature of Charles James’ approach to fashion combined with the technologically curated presentation of the Metropolitan Museum creates an exhibition that reveals connections between Mathematics and fashion design.

— Susan Happersett

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