charles james marisa tomei met gala

At this year’s punk-themed Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, attendees made such a poor effort at dressing to the punk theme that we thought they should just make next year’s topic “Prettiness.” Ashley joked that they could just theme it “Old Hollywood Glamour, but modern,” and it looks like that’s exactly what they’ve decided to do. Except we can’t snark about the 2014 Met Gala theme, because the exhibit is Charles James: Beyond Fashion.

That sound you just heard was 1,000 fashion nerds squealing.

Charles Freaking James (1906-1978) was America’s first couturier. His glamorous, mid-century couture involved feats of structural engineering so unique that when the Chicago History Museum devoted an exhibit to his work a couple years ago, they put some of his dresses in an MRI machine to see how they were put together. The Chicago exhibit also reproduced several gowns so visitors could touch them and look inside the dresses.

“The genius is on the inside,” said curator Timothy Long. “If you can’t see it, then you won’t understand what it is.”

Marisa Tomei wore vintage Charles James to the 2011 Academy Awards, and Tim Gunn looked like he wanted to wrap her in a tablecloth to make sure she didn’t spill anything on it.

“He really is a one-of-a-kind designer,” said Harold Koda, curator in charge of the Costume Institute, to WWD. “Even if you look through the history of French haute couture and all the English couture designers, James stands out as a very idiosyncratic personality and artist and one of the few designers who, in his own lifetime, felt that his work transcended the medium.”

Koda hints that this is the first time since the 90s that the Costume Institute will be exhibiting in an open space wired for the latest technology. Personally, I’m really hoping to see some more of that MRI action. (For other fashion construction nerds, the Met has some of James’ patterns and construction diagrams on its website.)

Admittedly, focusing the exhibit on mid-century couture gives all the red carpet regulars another opportunity to trot out their tired Old Hollywood looks for the gala. But since it’s Charles James hopefully we’ll see more drama, structure, and color than appears on your average red carpet these days.

Aerin Lauder is the event’s chairwoman, and she’ll be hosting with cochairs Oscar de la Renta, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch, Anna Wintour, and Bradley Cooper. (We’re not really sure what Bradley Cooper is doing there, but OK.)

Via WWD/Image: WENN