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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Manus x Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology

You have seen all of the hyped up Met Gala outfits. Now take a look at the Manus x Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology exhibit that inspired it all. Costume Institute head curator Andrew Bolton and Chief Design Officer of Apple Johnny Ive examined the link between crafting by hand and design innovation using technology.

In fashion, the old-school thought was that Haute Couture fashion, made by hand was the elite. A work of artisans, craft and art while machine-made clothing was cheap and for the masses. Meanwhile, every innovation in technology opens up new ideas and possibilities for taking design and fashion further, which is at odds with old-school thinking. Bolton came across a Chanel bridal ensemble (above) that he felt was a marriage of both which inspired the exhibit. Traditional Haute Couture techniques were employed in the construction, but the elaborate embroidery pattern consisted of digital design. That was hand-embellished on top.
Judging by all of the cyborg looks from the Met Gala, it was obvious a lot of people assumed that this was a futuristic fashion show. I found that while modern manufacturing was highlighted, the exhibit was more about different categories of embellishment. This subject speaks to me of course as an embellishment designer. 

Embroidery was celebrated. From classic thread work and hand knotted flowers to machine patterns. All forms of flowers from fabric manipulation of the Prada dresses to plastic laser-cut daisies of Dior to shaped metal flowers of Alexander McQueen.
Pleating as a technique was explored. Mariano Fortuny's dresses in the 1920's swept the industry in its time, then Mary McFadden in the 1980s. Issey Miyake took it further with flying saucer dress and flat garments that folded out to fully dimensional pieces. Raf Simons merged old and new with ribbon and tulle pleated skirts.

In the section on lace, there were examples of antique lace that was hand-knotted and crocheted. Then there were hand-cut lace-like patterns. In recent decades, designers are creating lace-like looks out of non-traditional materials using a laser-cut technique. Proenza Schouler created a ceramic appliqued on tulle dress that gives an appearance of traditional Guipure lace while Iris Van Harpen 3D-printed a lacy dress that looks like it morphed from a rib cage. ThreeAsFour's 3D printed creations were floating sculptures that looked like they defied gravity but still had a lace effect when worn.
The one thing I was disappointed about in this exhibit was that many of the most innovative pieces were just rolled over from the recent Beauty Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum.  I JUST saw the Iris Van Harpen iron filings dress, Maiko Takeda headpieces and Gareth Pugh drinking straw dress two weeks ago. If this is the premiere fashion exhibit of the year, it shouldn't look like a re-run. The Metropolitan Museum of Art had an entire year to put this together, they couldn't check in with the other museum?

Unlike the dramatic staging of the Alexander McQueen tribute a few years ago, the setting of this exhibit was minimal. Domed sheer scrim tents framed the key garments of the show. Some had projections of the embellishment in closeup swirling in the background. The soundtrack in the background was ethereal. The Met Museum always treats fashion as exquisite art. However, this reverence also makes it inaccessible and at times, elitist. The average citizen who hasn't studied fashion or cannot afford these designers might have trouble relating to what they see beyond an item on a pedestal. The best fashion exhibits inspire the viewer to want to wear it, want to design it, see how they can fit it into their lives.

Manus x Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology will be at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until August 14th, 2016.
Check out Summer Fashion Exhibits Worth Travelling For
by Ms. Fabulous at Mode

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