Newly unveiled at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute is its Spring 2016 exhibition, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology. The exhibition explores a newfound harmony of the handmade and the machine-made in fashion, particularly in haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear.
The exhibition coincides with the annual Met Gala—one of the most important events on the fashion calendar. Setting the dress code for the evening, the fashion-meets-technology theme graced the red carpet in full effect. The star-studded event was brimming with metallics and nano-gadgets from the likes of Taylor Swift, Madonna, Katy Perry and Kim Kardashian. And then there were those who took the theme even further like Karolina Kurkova’s Marchesa x IBM gown complete complete with floral appliqués and LED lights, and Claire Danes’ illuminating fiber-optic dress from Zac Posen.
Haute couture is distinct in that it is custom-made for a specific individual, while prêt-à-porter is ready-made for the masses. This distinction suggests a traditional notion that the handwork technique of couture is superior to that of the mechanic practice of ready-to-wear. And even though the different production processes have come to embrace one another, they still today characterize couture and prêt-à-porter.
Now more than ever, we are seeing an advancing relationship between fashion and technology. Hand (manus) versus machine (machina) are no longer oppositional practices but rather crafts that can advance one another when they work in tandem.
Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Chief Design Officer, said, “Both the automated and handcrafted process require similar amounts of thoughtfulness and expertise. There are instances where technology is optimized, but ultimately it’s the amount of care put into the craftsmanship, whether it’s machine-made or handmade, that transforms ordinary materials into something extraordinary.”
Manus x Machina showcases some 170 haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear garments spanning from the early 1900s to today. The exhibition calls attention to the beginning of haute couture and the introduction of the machine at the start of industrialization. It explores the relationship of the two crafts through the years, and suggests a new spectrum where the hand and the machine are mutually beneficial players in the creative process—and in creative solutions.
The exhibition is open to the public through August 14.