The entrance to the exhibit “A Thin Wall of Air: Charles James” features James’s red satin-and-velvet ball gown he designed for Dominique. He also did a version of this dress for Babe Paley and a select group of clients. The iron-framed yellow-and-gray chaise in the background is paired with Max Ernst’s Retour de la belle jardinière. James’s orange dress form for Dominique is on the right. It lived in her dressing room.
Gowns made for Dominique de Menil, furnishings from the Menil home, Surrealist paintings and a dress form are on view in the exhibition "A Thin Wall of Air: Charles James," at the Menil Collection through Sept. 7.
The manipulation of a garment’s ground fabric is one method that Americans have used to create ornamentation. Two dramatic examples are Charles James’s La Sirène evening dress, which is both ornamented and shaped using horizontal pin tucks, and Isabel Toledo’s "patchwork" dress, made from several finely fluted panels. Ralph Rucci’s evening dress is constructed from bands of fabric knotted on top to create a mesh-covered bodice, then unfurled to make the 117-piece, gored skirt.