Manus x Machina: Redefining Haute Couture

May 3, 2016 by Lila Delilah

In our neck of the woods, the first Monday in May is much of a holiday as, say, the first Monday in September or the fourth Thursday in November. It’s Met Day! It’s the time of year, when the entire fashion and art world direct their attention towards the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.

Beyond the parties and celebrities, the Met attempts to further establish fashion as an art form in its own right. This year’s theme is Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology. The exhibit explores the dichotomy between handmade and the machine-made in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde prêt-à-porter.

Inside, museum goers will be astounded by the cathedral structure that was erected to house the exhibit. The two floor layout, which was designed by architectural firm OMA, is essentially a building-within-a-building. Soft sculpture encapsulates the fashion vignettes, which are all accompanied by detailed explanations of process and materials used to fabricate each design. This was perhaps the most enriching part of the exhibit. (You can click here to see lots of pictures from inside the exhibit or our Instagram feed to see our favorites along with commentary.)

The exhibit’s main showcase is a Karl Lagerfeld-designed, Chanel haute couture wedding ensemble that features a 20-foot train. The dress is made of scuba knit– that’s a similar material Kohl’s uses for 75% of their designer collaborations. The difference is that this gown was hand molded and hand finished. The gown’s spectacular details include gold, glass, crystals, palettes and gold leather leaf.

Throughout the rest of the first floor exhibit, you will find other wonderful examples of how machines have elevated the technical mastery of our most celebrated tailors. An elaborate dress from Dior’s Summer 2014 collection was sewn by machine but then finished by two brodeurs, embroiderers. The underdress of the gown is embellished with clear plastic crystals, red glass sea beads and white plastic flower shaped paillettes. The finished product speaks to the proficiencies of an artist who has mastered more than just one method.

Other highlighted designers include Miuccia Prada, Pierpaolo Piccioli (Valentino), Alber Elbaz (Lanvin), Marc Jacobs (Louis Vuitton), Riccardo Tisci (Givenchy), Mary Katrantzou,Hussein Chalayan and so many more.

Downstairs, the exhibit is broken up into three significant pillars of fashion métiers, or jobs: pleating, lace, leather. Visitors are given detailed explanations about methods and fabrications.

This exhibit is less of a history lesson than any past Costume Institute instillation. There is so much information waiting to be revealed. It may take several visits to digest all the knowledge. We are just so happy that it’s so conveniently located in our neighborhood.


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