Courtesy Chicago History Museum
Sandwiched between the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s blockbuster “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” exhibition last summer and the Denver Art Museum’s forthcoming Yves Saint Laurent retrospective, which opens in March, is the Chicago History Museum’s ode to the iconic yet somewhat little-known fashion designer Charles James. It’s a gem of an exhibition not to be missed. Considered the first American couturier—and one of the only to have worked in the pure tradition of haute couture—James’s creations from 1928 to 1958 proved that the French weren’t the only craftsmen who could design lavish sculptural eveningwear. More than a dozen of James’s masterpieces are on display as part of “Charles James: Genius Deconstructed,” as are reproductions of his famous Tree, Clover and Butterfly dresses, with cutting and stitching so precise that the construction is almost scientific. The exhibition opening kicks off with a costume ball tomorrow night, where the dresses are expected to be as fabulous as the ones James created to outfit such enduring style icons as Babe Paley, Millicent Rogers and Gypsy Rose Lee. October 22, 2011–April 16, 2012; $14; 1601 N. Clark St.; 312-642-4600; chicagohs.org.