Eight Art Project
Eight Art Project

Manus x Machina. Fashion in an Age of Technology.

The eagerly awaited exhibition staged by the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York—Manus x Machina. Fashion in an Age of Technology —finally opened its doors on May 5 (and will run until August 14), promising to leave its mark on the relationship that began to develop between fashion and the visual arts in the last century. Its curator Andrew Bolton—formerly a member of the prestigious workgroup at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London—has succeeded in putting together a history of fashion that is able to surprise, as it avoids clichés and proposes an alternative dialogue between fashion and technology.
Manus x Machina, with over three hundred examples of clothing and accessories dating from between the early decades of the 20th century and the present day on display, has much more to offer than a comparison between two apparently distant worlds, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the processes of tailoring and dressmaking—from the most traditional to the most sophisticated—and see how technology is already part of fashion and no longer a prospect for the future.

The title, in this sense, aims to cancel out the historical contrast between a sartorial expertise linked to the concept of luxury and an industrial production used for the more down-market prêt-à-porter. Thus the exhibition lays bare many of the technological processes hidden behind garments that have now become part of history, as well as the creations of more recent generations. It all starts out from the incredible ?evening dress? that Karl Lagerfeld designed for Chanel’s Fall-Winter 2014 collection: an inextricable combination of manual skill and high technology. Lagerfeld’s sketch, in fact, is embellished with a decorative pattern created on the computer, transferred onto the long train and then hand-painted by a group of specialized artisans, before being finished with applications made entirely with a 3D printer. A confirmation of how the two poles that Bolton holds up for comparison, rather than representing two separate worlds, complement one another: one being a natural evolution of the other.

Another strength of the exhibition is undoubtedly the way it has been presented in the spaces of the Robert Lehman gallery: the display, designed by Rem Koolhaas’s studio, aims to tell a clear and minimal story, leaving room for exhibits of exceptional quality, but also for thematic analyses of a documentary nature. We discover, for example, that the idea of placing the process of tailoring and dressmaking on a par with other sectors of manufacturing and the sciences dates back to Diderot’s Encyclopédie, from which a number of key pages have been selected. It is precisely out of this historical context that comes the confirmation of how the design of clothing is in and of itself a technological process, whether it is done on the computer or not. Alongside the eccentricities of Issey Miyake and Hussein Chalayan, in fact, the Metropolitan relates the history of fashion, presenting to the public the rigor of Coco Chanel’s ‘timeless’ suits as well. Shown alongside Lagerfeld’s more recent interpretations of the model, they show how the traditional treatment of quilted embroidery can be regenerated by the use of new materials and processes, demonstrating that it is possible to reinvent classical techniques in a contemporary key.

Finally, the long timescales associated with traditional techniques of making clothes by hand by now overlap completely with those of more cutting-edge processes. It is no longer admissible to expect to find luxury and refinement exclusively in hand-stitched garments. The most fascinating work carried out along these lines is undoubtedly that of the young Iris van Herpen, adroit inventor of models surprisingly capable of incorporating technology, instead of using it to change the forms of the bodies that they clothe. The complicated exoskeletons that the Dutch fashion designer prints in 3D or with a laser show how artificial fabrics and other materials have become an integral part of fashion, just as high-tech devices of every kind are already woven into our daily lives.

Elena Tettamanti


New York // until August 14, 2016
Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology
curated by Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute
Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET), New York
1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10028


Photo credits:

1. Karl Lagerfeld for House of Chanel
Wedding ensemble (back view), autumn/winter 2014–15 haute couture

Courtesy of CHANEL Patrimoine Collection

Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope

2. Issey Miyake for Miyake Design Studio
"Flying Saucer" dress, spring/summer 1994

Courtesy of The Miyake Issey Foundation

Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope

3. Hussein Chalayan
“Kaikoku" floating dress, autumn/winter 2011–12

Courtesy of Swarovski

Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope

4. Nicolas Ghesquière for House of Balenciaga
Dress, spring/summer 2003

Courtesy of Balenciaga Archives, Paris

Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope

5. Iris van Herpen

Dress, spring/summer 2012 haute couture

Courtesy of Iris van Herpen

Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope

May 2016
Elena Tettamanti