“Manus x Machina”

Bright and early this morning I was reminded that spring is on the way with a press breakfast at The Met. As you probably already know, Costume Institute’s Spring 2016 exhibition entitled Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology (on view from May 5 through August 14 and preceded on May 2 by The Costume Institute Benefit) seems to be a theme that has some industry insiders shaking their heads. “If anyone can make it work it’s Andrew Bolton,” said one attendee that I conversed with this morning. The exhibition seeks to explore how the handmade and the machine-made work together both in the creation of haute couture and in avant-garde ready-to-wear.

Thomas P. Campbell, Andrew Bolton, Anna Wintour

Fittingly enough, corporate sponsors are Apple and Conde Nast. The exhibition will be presented in both the Museum’s Robert Lehman Wing and in the Anna Wintour Costume Center. “Fashion and technology are inextricably connected, more so now than ever before,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Met. “It is therefore timely to examine the roles that the handmade and the machine-made have played in the creative process. This exhibition proposes a new view in which the hand and the machine, often presented as oppositional, are mutual and equal protagonists.”

Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute first explained that the somewhat funereal sounding music that we were hearing was “Music for Airports” which was one of the first in the category of ambient music originally featured on Apple. This will be a future sound track for the exhibition as well. He said that the exhibition title was inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and the line “the mediator between the head and the hand must be the heart.”

Wedding Dress — House of Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld 2014-15 Haute Couture

“Traditionally, the distinction between the haute couture and pret-a-porter was based on the handmade and the machine-made, but recently this distinction has become increasingly blurred as both disciplines have embraced the practices and techniques of the other,” said Bolton. He spoke of how the invention of the sewing machine was both perceived as progressive and democratic on the plus side but also as signaling the downfall of the handmade or individually made. “Initially, the hand was celebrated and the machine denigrated. Now they are each practicing techniques of the other.

Chanel, Haute Couture suit, 2015, Iris Van Herpen S/S/2010, Yves Saint Laurent
Evening Dress A/W 1969-70

The exhibit will show that although there is an ongoing dichotomy between the handmade and the machine, the two are really “mutual protagonists” and that they are equal. The Anna Wintour wing will showcase the haute couture resembling a traditional maison de couture with ateliers of tailoring and dressmaking while the Lehman wing will feature both the more traditionally handmade techniques involved in haute couture including pleating, embroidery, featherwork, artificial flowers leatherwork, lacework alongside the newer methods of machine innovation including thermo shaping, 3D printing, circular knitting, computer modeling, bonding and laminating, laser cutting and ultrasonic welding. Over 100 examples of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear, dating from an 1880s Worth gown to a 2015 Chanel suit will be displayed.

Issey Miyake S/S 1994 “Flying Saucer Dress”, House of Dior- Raf Simons, S/S 2015, Hussein Chalayan “Kaikoku” Floating Dress A/W2011-12, Dior, Haute Couture S/S1952 “Vilmiron” Dress, Christopher Kane, S/S 2014, pret-a-porter

Designers in the exhibition will include Cristobel Balenciaga, Boue Soeurs, Sarah Burton (McQueen), Pierre Cardin, Hussein Chalayan, Valentino, Courreges, Giles Deacon, Christian Dior, Alber Elbaz, Mariano Fortuny, John Galliano, Issey Miyake, Yves Saint Laurent, Christopher Kane, Mary Katrantzou, Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto, Iris Van Herpen (whose Atlanta show I recently wrote about here), plus many others.

The Costume Institute Benefit Gala will be held on May 2 with Co-Chairs Idris Elba, Jonathan Ive (of Apple), Taylor Swift, and Anna Wintour. Honorary Chairs are Nicolas Ghesquiere, Karl Lagerfeld, and Miuccia Prada.

Attending the press event today were several Vogue/Conde Nast bigwigs including, of course, Anna Wintour, Hamish Bowles, Virginia Smith and Suzy Menkes as well as others covering the event from many national and international publications.

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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