Manus x Machina – Fashion in an Age of Technology is the number-one museum exhibit of the summer. Housed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, May’s Met Gala revolved around this focus on the effect of technology on fashion trends and fashion development.
The exhibit’s focal point is this Chanel wedding dress by Karl Lagerfeld. It is made from scuba knit, hand molded, machine sewn and hand finished. According to Lagerfeld, it’s “haute couture without the couture.”
In a brilliant mix of fashion and technology, Lagerfeld originally drew the train design by hand, then it was digitally manipulated to give it the appearance of a random, pixelated baroque pattern. It was then produced by a mixture of hand and machine techniques.
The exhibit continues with unique pieces that reflect fashion’s changing techniques throughout history, and how technological advances have forever changed the way clothes are designed and made. These are some of my favorite pieces:
This 2014 Dior dress was sewn by machine and embroidered by hand, as is common for haute couture. It combines the skills of two embroiderers, and rather than the artificial flowers being after-the-fact decorations, instead they serve as the garment’s enabling principles.
This 2011 Hussein Chalayan dress is actually cast fiberglass painted with gold metallic pigment. It’s decorated with Swarovski crystal and pearled paper “pollens” which are spring loaded. The pollens can then be released into the air, and swirl around the wearer much like those swirling “helicopter” seeds that fall from trees.
This 2005 Chanel dress is lovely, and looks like a giant bouquet. It was entirely made by hand, and each flower took up to 90 minutes to complete. In total, over 700 hours of handwork went into this garment.
This 2015 Gareth Pugh dress is one of the most unique garments in the exhibit. It’s hand embroidered with black plastic straws!
And this 2013 Iris van Herpen dress is one of the creepiest! It has hand-applied silicone-coated gull skulls (yes, skulls) with synthetic pearls and glass eyes.
This 1983 Saint Laurent dress is stunning, and was sewn by machine and finished by hand.
These 2016 Louis Vuitton dresses were produced by a mixture of techniques. They were machine sewn, then covered in a hand-applied overlay of silk synthetic net, bonded with laser-cut silver metallic strips, hand airbrushed and then hand grommeted with copper metal.
These 1965 Norman Norell evening dresses are machine sewn, hand embroidered, machine finished and hand hemmed.
The 2012 Alexander McQueen dress on the right is hand embroidered with red and orange glass beads, freshwater pearls, pieces of coral and dyed shells. According to the designer, Sarah Burton, “it took days and days to finish. I literally lost track of the hours.”
These 1949 Dior dresses were made in an age prior to technology taking over many of dressmaking’s traditional roles. At the time, Christian Dior stated “In a machine age, dressmaking is one of the last refuges of the human, the personal and the individual.”
Even with this 2012 Alexander McQueen dress, Sarah Burton said “In a way, the hand is being lost today. It’s important to me that a piece of clothing always feels like it has been touched by the hand at some point, even if there is a lot of machine work involved.”
Then the exhibit continues to focus more on the machine made than the hand made.
For example, this Iris van Herpen design was made with a 3-D printer!
These 2009 Hussein Chalayan dresses are meant to reflect inertia, and look as if they’re caught in the midst of speed, embodying the cause and effect of a crash in one moment.
Hussein Chalayan also created these 2007 dresses, in which he physically morphed mechanical dresses from one era’s style to another.
This amazing 2014 threeASFOUR dress used 3-D printing to create a new kind of textile.
This 2011 Iris van Herpen dress was also 3-D printed. According to van Herpen, “People often think that when you create something by machine it is perfect. But this dress is a good example of the opposite. While the dress was printing, many small faults happened because of intense heating of the material. This makes the bones irregular, and it makes it look even more real.”
This 2015 Iris van Herpen dress is made from laser-cut silicone chevrons that were baked in an oven. She equated making this dress to putting together legos, and calls the technique “3-D lacework.”
This amazing 2012 Iris van Herpen dress was 3-D printed using stereolithography.
This 2013 Thom Browne dress is made from laser cut white foam. According to Browne, “it’s very rare for me to make an item of clothing in which the hand is absent entirely, but this dress was cut by a machine, sewn by a machine, and finished by a machine. I love the precision and perfection of machine-made clothes just as much as I love the imprecision and imperfection of handmade clothes.”
This stunning 2015 Comme des Garçons dress is machine-sewn black synthetic leather with an overlay of hand-folded black synthetic leather flowers.
This 2014 Valentino coat was my favorite of the exhibit. It’s machine and hand sewn, and then hand embroidered with black leather and silk artificial flowers and feathers. I would LOVE to wear it!
Manus x Machina runs through August 14, 2016 at The Met. Admission is free with your museum ticket, and you can find out more information here.
“Perhaps it used to matter if a dress was handmade or machine-made, at least in the haute couture, but now things are completely different. The digital revolution has changed the world.” – Karl Lagerfeld
And you don’t want to miss it.