Fashion in an age of technology at the Met

Renee Minus White | 5/5/2016, 1:09 p.m.
“Fashion and technology are inextricably connected, more so now than ever before,” said Thomas P. Campbell, director/CEO of the Metropolitan ...
Fashions from Manus X Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology" at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art

“Fashion and technology are inextricably connected, more so now than ever before,” said Thomas P. Campbell, director/CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at the recent press preview of “Manus X Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology.”

Presented in the Met’s Robert Lehman Wing, the spring 2016 Costume Institute exhibition will be on view from May 5 through Aug. 14, 2016. “It is therefore timely to examine the roles that the handmade and the machine-made have played in the creative process,” said Campbell. Sponsored by Conde Nast and Apple, the purpose of the exhibit is to give a new view of the importance of both the hand and machine in creating a garment.

As a customer, you would actually be amazed to see all the work that goes into designing and making a garment. At the Costume Institute exhibit, there are video clips at the base of each gorgeous garment, showing how fashion’s talented technicians sew sequins or beads onto a dress, measure and cut the patterns, stretch the lace and drape, gather or cinch the fabric on the models. In the digital age, various technological steps are now involved. Many designs, especially in fabrics, are made by machine. For instance, designer Mary McFadden created a new fabric texture called Marri pleats, on polyester charmeuse, for her beautiful, jewel-toned empire-waist gowns in 1987. The show also examines a series of beaded gowns, sequined sheaths, feathered fashions, faux flowered looks and leather works that are cut and shaped in dazzling designs. Hand embroidery is another category.

The show opens with an extraordinary haute couture 2014 wedding dress by Chanel, designed by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, with a 20-foot train. It is dramatically displayed at the entrance of the exhibition hall. A superlative example of the juxtaposition between handmade and machine-made garments, the train’s design pattern was hand-painted with gold metallic pigment, machine-printed with rhinestones, and hand-embroidered with pearls and gemstones.

The show also addresses the founding of haute couture in the 19th century, when sewing machines were invented, and the emergence of a distinction between the hand (manus) and the machine (machina) at the onset of industrialization and mass production. On two levels (the first and ground floors), you will enjoy moving from one room to another, and from level to level, where there are several series of style case studies shown in the most fabulous fashions by the best designers in the world. You will also learn how haute couture and ready-to-wear ensembles are decoded to reveal their hand and machine DNA.

Major designers in the exhibition include Crisobal Balenciaga, Pierre Cardin, Andre Courreges, Dior, Charles James, Hubert de Givenchy, Madame Gres and many more. The show is accompanied by a 248-page book with 178 color illustrations, published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale Press, for $50 in a limited edition.

For more information, visit www.metmuseum.org/ManusxMachina.