For its Spring 2016 exhibit, The Met takes on handmade vs machine-made in Manus x Machina. Is fashion ready for the rise of the machines?

Fashion has always been a kind of technology. The human body is dynamic. Its articulation points are numerous. And, no two bodies are exactly alike. So the art of making garments move and flow and accentuate a human body is also a feat of engineering. Yet, it took a long time for fashion to be recognized among the arts and sciences. Once recognized, machine-made often got a bad rap. For its spring 2016 exhibit, The Met takes on handmade vs machine-made in Manus x Machina. The exhibit, which opens on May 5, shows how fashion may have to prepare for the rise of the machines as technology allows designers to do things that create in new ways.

manus x machina rise of machines

Karl Lagerfeld (French, born Hamburg, 1938) for House of Chanel (French, founded 1913)
Ensemble, autumn/winter 2015–16 haute couture
Courtesy of CHANEL Patrimoine Collection
Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope

Diving into how fashion exists in the age of technology, it deconstructs notions of couture for the individual and ready to wear for mass production. It also questions our societal notions of luxury, artisan, craftsmanship and fashion’s future. One display is a $300,000 Chanel quilted suit that effortlessly combines hand stitching with machine detailing. Designed last year by Karl Lagerfeld, it is further illustration of how Lagerfeld embraces technologies.

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

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

Yves Saint Laurent (French, 1936–2008) Evening dress, autumn/winter 1969–70 haute couture French 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

Yves Saint Laurent (French, 1936–2008)
Evening dress, autumn/winter 1969–70 haute couture
French
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

Other intricate designs on display include pieces by legacy brands like Issey Miyaki and Yves Saint Laurent as well as even younger designers like Iris van Herpen. Herpen is renowned for her structural creations via 3D printing.

Iris van Herpen (Dutch, born 1984) Dress, autumn/winter 2013–14 haute couture Dutch Silicone, cotton The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, 2015 (2016.14) Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope

Iris van Herpen (Dutch, born 1984)
Dress, autumn/winter 2013–14 haute couture
Dutch
Silicone, cotton
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, 2015 (2016.14)
Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope

Iris van Herpen (Dutch, born 1984) Ensemble, spring/summer 2010 haute couture Dutch 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

Iris van Herpen (Dutch, born 1984)
Ensemble, spring/summer 2010 haute couture
Dutch
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

iris van herpen met manus x machina

Iris van Herpen (Dutch, born 1984)
Dress, spring/summer 2012 haute couture
Courtesy of Iris van Herpen
Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope

As Andrew Bolton, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Curator in Charge, explains it:

“What we’re trying to do is debunk some of the mythologies around the handmade and machine made.Traditionally the handmade has been seen as being about luxury about superiority… seen as something that’s elitist. The machine has been about progress and the future and on the other side about mediocrity and dehumanization. I’m finding that those values don’t really hold up. Sometimes a garment that’s been machine made actually has more hours spent on it and is more luxurious than doing it by hand.”
Bolton adds, “The intent is to slow down the fashion system. People are so preoccupied by the next thing that there’s a lack of appreciation in the making of fashion.”
Manus x Machina will be on display from May 5 to August 14.

 

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There’s also a complementary Exhibition Catalogue available for purchase that explores traditional artistry and the future of fashion. It presents 90 designer ensembles photographed by Nicholas Alan Cope.
Scroll below and press play to see a sneak preview of the exhibit.