Charles James's alias was "James Shape." What better moniker could there be for a designer known as an architect of fashion and who sculpted dresses that remain as breathtaking today as they were when they were first shown?

James, the son of a British military man and an American heiress, was so possessed with vision that he is said to have dedicated three years and twenty thousand dollars to the refinement of a single sleeve. His perfectionism was such a part of his persona that in 1951, Vogue, ever supportive of the then New York–based couturier, could quip, without being too insider-y, that James "is about as disinterested in a suit's special cut as an engineer is in a bridge."

Related: Charles James' Most Iconic Looks

Cut was everything to the feisty James, who first came to fame as a teenage milliner who shaped his hats directly on his clients' heads. Later, he would dress ladies like Blonde Venus Marlene Dietrich, patrician beauty Babe Paley, burlesque star Gypsy Lee Rose, and Standard Oil heiress Millicent Rogers, his greatest patron, in fairy-tale frocks whose magic was derived from their construction rather than their decoration. Some of these were so structured that they were practically able to stand on their own-much like their sui generis creator.

As the fashion world prepares for the opening of "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Gala on May 5, we track James's life in as it appears in the Vogue archives.

More from Vogue:
The 18 Best Met Gala Dress-Code Rejectors of All Time
A First Look at the Met's New Costume Institute Exhibit "Charles James: Beyond Fashion"
The Best Met Gala Looks of All Time