Manus x Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology

CIOL Writers
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The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Spring 2016 exhibition, titled Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology,debuted at the annual star-studded Met Gala on Monday and was opened to public yesterday.

The latest exhibition focuses on the interplay between fashion and technology, hand (manus) and machine (machina)in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear, and their symbolic associations over the years.


Deconstructing popular perceptions about fashion, the exhibition with over 170 ensembles -- including designs from Dior and Chanel, and contemporary talents like Miuccia Prada and Karl Lagerfeld, showcases that fashion that may seem highly futuristic, like Iris van Herpen's bird dress from July 2013, are in fact mostly hand-made, while iconic vintage garments were made with the help of machines.

Andrew Bolton, curator in charge of The Costume Institute explained: "I think what the exhibition tries to address are those symbolic associations of the hand and the machine. Sometimes employing the machine is more time consuming and more expensive than the hand."

"The majority of pieces in the exhibitions are an amalgam of the hand and the machine. It is very rare to have a garment in which the hand and the machine is completely absent, whether it is haute couture or ready to wear."

Ever since sewing machines made foray into garment industry, there has always been discordance between hand-made and machine made with the hand-made typically seen as of higher quality but also elitist and anti-modern.

Bolton tells that it wasn’t easy to narrow down on such a vast subject. "I have really focused on designers who have had a history of trying reconcile the hand and the machine in their design process, and who deliberately make it part of their process."

Significantly, at an exhibition examining interplay between fashion and technology, wearable technology was conspicuous by its absence. "Wearable technology is something I am very ambivalent about <...> I think the biggest problem with wearable tech is the aesthetics of it and the fact that it is really just there as a gimmick, as opposed to something that has a realistic application in terms of fashion," Bolton added.