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US first lady opens Anna Wintour costume center

US First Lady Michelle Obama applauds after she cut the ribbon officially opening the Costume Institute’s new Anna Wintour Costume Center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 5, 2014 in New York
US First Lady Michelle Obama applauds after she cut the ribbon officially opening the Costume Institute’s new Anna Wintour Costume Center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 5, 2014 in New York

First Lady Michelle Obama paid glowing tribute Monday to Vogue fashion legend Anna Wintour, as she cut the ribbon on New York's $40 million renovated costume center named in her honor.

Wearing a stunning, green floral dress by the Indian-born Naeem Khan, Obama inaugurated the Anna Wintour Costume Center at a celebrity-studded ceremony at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"The truth is I'm here today because of Anna. I'm here because I have such respect and admiration for this woman, who I am proud to call my friend," Obama said.

The first lady, beloved by the American fashion world for her elegance, said the center would be a source of learning and inspiration for young people interested in the fashion industry.

Hollywood actress Sarah Jessica Parker joined designers Diane von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Stella McCartney and Oscar de la Renta at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Monday night marks the glittering Met ball, or Costume Institute Gala Benefit, hosted by Wintour. It is one of the biggest events in the society calendar for the international jet set.

Fashion designer Stella McCartney (C) and actress Sarah Jessica Parker (front) take photos of themselves‎ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art May 5, 2014 in New York
Fashion designer Stella McCartney (C) and actress Sarah Jessica Parker (front) take photos of themselves‎ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art May 5, 2014 in New York

Although Obama is not expected to attend, some of the biggest stars in fashion, sports and Hollywood are expected to tread the red carpet at the charity event.

The Costume Institute has undergone a two-year renovation and been re-named after Wintour, the British-born editor-in-chief of American Vogue and artistic director for publisher Conde Nast.

Wintour has been a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum since 1999 and in her role as benefit chair and fundraiser she has raised around $125 million for its Costume Institute.

The director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas Campbell said the Anna Wintour Costume Center was designed "to accommodate and inspire the next generation."

- Historic costume, contemporary fashion -

Its inaugural exhibition features another British export to the United States, groundbreaking couturier Charles James, whose work goes on view from Thursday until August 10.

In addition to two exhibition galleries, the center includes conservation facilities, collection storage and a library.

"The new space allows us to rethink our approach to the display of historic costume and contemporary fashion," said Harold Koda, curator in charge.

US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) and Vogue Magazine Editor Anna Wintour (L) are seen after the official opening of The Costume Institute’s new Anna Wintour Costume Center at The Metropolitan Museum of Art May 5, 2014 in New York
US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) and Vogue Magazine Editor Anna Wintour (L) are seen after the official opening of The Costume Institute’s new Anna Wintour Costume Center at The Metropolitan Museum of Art May 5, 2014 in New York

The Charles James exhibition features 65 of the designer's most notable designs from the 1920s until his death in 1978.

"Charles James considered himself an artist, and approached fashion with a sculptor’s eye and a scientist's logic," said Campbell.

"The Met is the ideal place to explore the rich complexity of his innovative work."

The main gallery shows off to dramatic effect 15 gorgeous James evening gowns, including the "Butterfly" and "Swan" that date back to the late 1940s and early 1950s.

The dresses float on platforms, lit up under spotlights in the near-dark exhibition hall while animations, text, x-rays, and vintage images explain how each gown was intricately constructed.

James moved to New York in 1940 and is considered one of the greatest haute couture designers in the United Sates.

"Technology will allow us to look at what the eye can't see in fashion -- structure, construction, undergarments, motion, silhouette, and sound-like the rustle of the bustle or the creak of a crinoline," said Andrew Bolton, curator in the Institute.

The Institute has more than 35,000 costumes and accessories in its collection and its library is home to more than 30,000 rare books and periodicals, files, prints, drawings and photographs.

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