Exactly what does it take to make a beautiful garment? Is the effort of hand sewing a couture creation more extensive than a 3D printed dress? The Metropolitan Museum of Art and curator in charge, Andrew Bolton, delved deep to dig up the answers for this year’s Costume Institute exhibition, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology. With over 170 fashion pieces from past to present, the exhibition looks to bridge the gap between the two protagonists – handmade traditions, manus, versus machine assisted garments, machina. With the Industrial Revolution and invention of the sewing machine, the mindset has swiftly changed towards which methods should be used to make something truly extraordinary.
As the distinction between haute couture and prêt-à-porter gets more muddled than ever, the 2016 exhibit breaks down the vast spectrum of design practices in the 21st century and how it’s not quite black and white when it comes to man versus machine. Nowhere is this combination more present than in the opening exhibit gown – a Fall 2014 Chanel couture wedding ensemble made of a hand-molded synthetic scuba knit that is both machine sewn and then hand embroidered over a digitally drawn baroque print. Presented in the Museum’s Robert Lehman Wing, the exhibit is structured around the founding couture principles of métiers or trade houses that specialize in embroidery, feathers, artificial flowers, pleating, lace and leather work and each curated look explores the current fashion canon and the new frontier that technology inevitably brings. With archived pieces loaned from Christian Dior, Balenciaga, Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Iris van Herpen, Yves Saint Laurent, Hussein Chalayan, Issey Miyake and countless others, what was once thought as two clashing forces comes beautifully together for a technically unified delight.
Text by Irene Ojo-Felix