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Designer Charles James: Here's What You Need to Know Before Tonight's Met Gala

Charles James Cecil Beaton/Vogue/Conde Nast

The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Gala is tonight!

The gala's featured designer is Charles James, and if you're scratching your head asking, "Huh? Charles who?" don't feel so out of the loop. You're not alone.

The late designer is not exactly a household name, and he's mostly recognized among the fashion set. But just because he may not be as familiar a name as, say, Coco Chanel, that doesn't mean that he wasn't tremendously influential.

So to keep you ahead of the fashion game, we're giving you a bit of a history lesson—but a fun one, not a nap-inducing one!—on Charles James.

Here's everything you know about the influential designer who's getting his own Met gala tonight. 

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Charles James Cecil Beaton/Vogue/Conde Nast

1. He Got His Start Designing Hats: Born in 1906, James got his start in the fashion industry at the age of 19 when he opened up a hat shop in Chicago, using the name of one of his childhood friends, "Charles Boucheron." Two years later he moved to New York and opened up a hat shop in Murray Hill.

2. He Was Known For His Sexy Silhouettes: James typically worked with silk, velvet and organdy, and there was nothing prudish about his deigns. He was known for his signature ball gowns that played up a woman's figure instead of trying to conceal it. 

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Charles James The Metropolitan Museum of Art

3. His Most Famous Gown Weighed 18 Pounds: James would give his gowns deliberately light, airy names like "petal" or "butterfly," even though they were super heavy. His heftiest dress—"The Butterfly Gown"—weighed in at a whopping 18 pounds!

4. He Had Friends in High Places: One of his best friends was Cecil Beaton, the famous Vogue fashion photographer. As he went further in his career, he earned high praise from fellow designers Cristóbal Balenciaga and Christian Dior, who once called him, "the greatest talent of my generation."

5. He Was a Partier Who Loved a Good Time: James was known for being a social butterfly and always made sure to attend the biggest galas and parties of the year. He even created a dress called "The Taxi Dress" that was designed so that you could easily change into it in a cab while you were en route to a party. 

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Charles James Michael A. Vaccaro/LOOK Magazine Photograph Collection

6. He Wasn't the Best Businessman: While he was a creative genius, James famously fell short on the business end of things. He ultimately fell into $197,000 worth of debt and had his showroom seized by the IRS.

7. His Legacy Lives On: James died in New York City in 1978 at the age of 72, but his legacy has lived on, influencing many designers after his time. He's getting his own Met gala, after all. The exhibit, "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" is showing at the Met from May 8 until August 10, 2014. Check it out!

PHOTOS: Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibit 

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