Manus x Machina - Fashion in an Age of Technology

Iris van Herpen (Dutch, born 1984)
Ensemble, spring/summer 2010 haute couture
Polyamide, acrylic, leather
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, 2015 (2016.16a, b)
Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope


Designapplause website

The Met

A new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute explores the relationship between the handmade and the mechanized in fashion. Head Curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Andrew Bolton’s vision pays homage to craftsmanship, innovation and the role designers play in the creative process.

The show’s galleries are divided into embroidery, featherwork, artificial flowers, lacework, leatherwork, pleating, tailoring, and dressmaking. Another interesting counterpoint: Haute couture versus prêt-à-porter.

Hussein Chalayan (British, born Cyprus, 1970)
"Kaikoku" floating dress, autumn/winter 2011–12
Courtesy of Swarovski
Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope

Floating gown product of painted forged fiberglass with motorized rear panels.

Exhibition Overview

(Source: museum website)

The Costume Institute's spring 2016 exhibition explores how fashion designers are reconciling the handmade and the machine-made in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear.

With more than 170 ensembles dating from the early 20th century to the present, the exhibition addresses the founding of the haute couture in the 19th century, when the sewing machine was invented, and the emergence of a distinction between the hand (manus) and the machine (machina) at the onset of mass production. It explores this ongoing dichotomy, in which hand and machine are presented as discordant tools in the creative process, and questions the relationship and distinction between haute couture and ready-to-wear.

The Robert Lehman Wing galleries, on the Museum's first floor and ground level, have been transformed into a building-within-a-building using white scrims. The space houses a series of case studies in which haute couture and ready-to-wear ensembles are decoded to reveal their hand/machine DNA. A 2014 haute couture wedding dress by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel with a 20-foot train occupies a central cocoon, with details of its embroidery projected onto the domed ceiling. The scuba knit ensemble, one of the inspirations for the exhibition, stands as a superlative example of the confluence between the handmade and the machine-made–the pattern on the train was hand-painted with gold metallic pigment, machine-printed with rhinestones, and hand-embroidered with pearls and gemstones.


Karl Lagerfeld (French, born Hamburg, 1938) for House of Chanel (French, founded 1913)
Wedding ensemble (back view), autumn/winter 2014–15 haute couture
Courtesy of CHANEL Patrimoine Collection
Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope

Yves Saint Laurent (French, 1936–2008)
Evening dress, autumn/winter 1969–70 haute couture
Silk, bird-of-paradise feathers
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, 1983 (1983.619.1a, b)
Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope

Issey Miyake (Japanese, born 1938) for Miyake Design Studio (Japanese, founded 1970)
"Flying Saucer" dress, spring/summer 1994
Courtesy of The Miyake Issey Foundation
Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope

Machine-sewn polychrome polyester planin weave, machine-garment-pleated in paper / 1993 (re-created 2016)

Christopher Kane (British, born 1982)
Dress, spring/summer 2014
Courtesy of Christopher Kane
Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope

left-right> Hussein Chalayan / Machine-sen, bonded pale gray viscose jersey and polyurethane foam, hand-glued seam allowance / Spring-Summer 2009 prêt-à-porter // hussein chalayan / molded white polyurethane foam, hand-painted and airbrushed with gray, green, blue, brown, black and red crushed automobile imagery / spring-summer 2009 prêt-à-porter

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