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Manus X Machina

October 14, 2016

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Back to the Future celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of its release in 2015. In 1985 most people didn’t expect that the households of the future would have a century jumping, souped-up DeLorean. But maybe by the time the millennium rolled around they could expect to fly on a hoverboard in a pair Marty McFly’s self lacing Nike Mags.

Though hydraulic kicks and Doc Martin’s inventions may still be fiction, there is no aspect of contemporary human life unaffected, unmodified, simplified, or in some cases complicated, by advancements in technology.

 

 THE WORLD OF HIGH FASHION IS NO DIFFERENT.

 

We live in an age of machines, and the Met’s latest foray into fashion, Manus x Machina asks the viewer not to dismiss these changes but to reconsider these “advancements.”  This dynamic collection, highlighting some of fashion’s most legendary designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, and Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld, seeks to marry the labor intensive world of haute couture with the rapid precision of new technological processes, such as 3D printing and laser cutting.

At the core of Manus x Machina, Costume Institute curator, Andrew Bolton,  insists that that exhibit, and high fashion in general, is not Man VS Machine but Man and Machine, a symbiotic relationship.

Manus x Machina is sartorial time line tracking innovations in fashion design and production from the early 20th century to the present. Bolton’s belief that fashion, quality, and creativity need not suffer from the incorporation of technology or technology aided designs is evident throughout the exhibit.

With each garment, of which there are over 170, the viewer is asked- is the machine simply another tool? Another extension of the designer’s creativity? Or has the machine simplified the fashion trade?

IS THIS THE NEXT EVOLUTIONARY STEP FOR HIGH FASHION? OR IS THIS THE END OF HAUTE COUTURE?

Issey Miyake’s Flying Saucer Dress for Miyake Design Studio Spring/Summer 1994. Photo Credit-Nicholas Alan Cope.

An array of Mariano Fortuny's silk gowns, most notably the classic Delphos gown. Photo Credit- Mallory O'Donoghue.

An array of Mariano Fortuny’s silk gowns, most notably the classic Delphos gown. Photo Credit- Mallory O’Donoghue.

 

The Costume Institute and Bolton’s position is clear. There are more subtle examples, such as Issey Miyake’s “Flying Saucer Dress,” the futuristic heir to the artistic pleats of Mariano Fortuny’s “Delphos Gown” from 1907. The simple, yet striking pleats of the silk fabric are playfully echoed in Miyake’s “Jetson-esque” ensemble.

 Fashion’s innovative and historical parallels are displayed confidently on simple monotone backgrounds, devoid of any tech-heavy gadgetry or distraction. Broken up into categories:  pleating, embroidery, artificial flowers, featherwork, lacework, leatherwork, each piece is a separate  case study tracking the succession of fashionable materials and craft-work.

Audience favorite, Karl Lagerfeld’s 2014-15 wedding gown acts as the fashionable focal point for the entire exhibit. Sitting atop a raised dais, the viewer is immediately confronted by Mr. Lagerfeld’s neo-Baroque, scuba knit synthetic creation. The sequined train, an elaborate repetition of a pixelated brocade pattern  is the ultimate amalgam of the machine made and the hand made. This gown is the innovative heir to the simple yet painstakingly created lace flowers of the 19th century Irish wedding dress displayed later on in Manus x Machina.

But is one piece better than the other? Does modern mean better? Does the hand made trump the computer driven machine?

Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, wedding ensemble autumn/winter 2014-15. Photo-Nicholas A. Cope

Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, wedding ensemble autumn/winter 2014-15. Photo-Nicholas A. Cope

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Irish wedding gown circa 1870.

Irish wedding gown circa 1870.

No stranger to brocade. Guo Pei's gold lame, silk, and silver showstopper enchanted museum goers at last year's China: Through the Looking Glass exhibit. Is Guo Pei's hand embroidered gown better, more precious than Lagerfeld's scuba confection?

No stranger to brocade. Guo Pei’s gold lame, silk, and silver showstopper enchanted museum goers at last year’s China: Through the Looking Glass exhibit. Is Guo Pei’s hand embroidered gown better, more precious than Lagerfeld’s scuba confection?

Viewers are given space to ponder under endless yards of scrim, which the architects from OMA have utilized in a stark homage to the basilica structure within the belly of the Met building.

Manus x Machina  is a delight for the eyes, but the exhibit lacks the pizzazz and theatrical opulence museum-goers have come to expect from previous fashion exhibitions like China: Through the Looking Glass and Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. Like hemlines of many of the Iris Van Herpen frocks, Andrew Bolton’s Manus x Machina is perhaps a little too skimpy when it comes to providing visitors with information about the respective crafts of the fashion metier.

Despite any missteps on this catwalk, Manus x Machina is a treat and certainly an exhibit not to be missed. Manus x Machina will be on view through August 14. Click here for more information.

 

Written by Mallory O’Donoghue 

Graphics by Patricia Lesyk  

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