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Blog: Visit to Manus X Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology



It had an intriguing and memorable display of garments by major fashion designers from Christian Dior (House of Dior) and Karl Lagerfeld (House of Chanel).  The exhibition looks at haute couture (singular garment fitted for a specific individual) and prét-à-porter (produced for the mass market in standard sizes) and questions how the technical separation between the two are becoming increasingly ambiguous. Also, the exhibition focus on the cultural and symbolic meanings of the hand-machine dichotomy. The show removes the identification of hand and machine from its typical confined subjectivity.


With over 170 pieces from the 20th century to the present based on technology and process, and the hidden technologies in garment and production. Covering a range of categories such as feather-work, artificial flowers and lacework. A special category is based on tailoring and dress-making. Within this creation of building in a building, the displays’ intention is to focus on concept and the use of technology to enhance designs. The exhibition also related to this years’ MET Gala theme.

Here are some of my favourites from the show:

One of the major breathtaking garments was a centre piece by Karl Lagerfeld (House of Chanel) which was a wedding ensemble. With an amazing train, it was the first piece to witness at the entrance. Lagerfeld describes the piece as ‘haute couture without the couture’ and was actually one of the pieces that inspired the exhibition. The dress was scuba knit and incorporates silk satin being hand sewn and machine finished. Lagerfeld’s hand-drawn design was digitally manipulated to give it the appearance of a pixelated baroque pattern. Karl Lagerfeld: ‘The digital revolution has changed the world.’ 


Tailoring and Dress-Making

This category had an interesting concept taking pattern cutting, stitching and garment construction to another level. It was based around exercising precision and accuracy in cutting is a form of art in itself. One piece that was particularly interesting was by Hussein Chalayan, Vionnet S.P.A. He used pattern-drafting paper, hand embroidery in black silk and hand embroidered dot and cross motifs. Chalayan states: ‘I think it is very unmodern to be fixated on a particular technique…I use the hand when I need to, and the machine when I need to.’


met1Artificial Flowers

Dresses in this category were beautiful and elegant. Artificial flowers are a significant form of embellishment, incorporating hand embroidery and featherwork. It is a form used in both the world of haute couture and prét-à-porter. The garments were graced with beauty fragility.  My favourite from this category was by Boué Soeurs in Court Presentation Ensemble. This pastel coloured piece was hand-sewn in ivory silk tulle, machine embroidered with crouched silver cord, it also had insets of silver-blue silk and metal lamé. My favourite detail of the dress was the ribbon and floss flowers in blue, yellow, green, pink and purple.  


As for lacework much of the garments were filled with a fragile feminised look of pure white lace. One of the haute couture pieces that was iconic was a House of Givenchy dress. The dress incorporated a ‘machine-sewn white silk tulle, hand-sewn applique of white silk lace and a white pony skin, hand embroidered pearls and white goose feathers.’  Other more experimental pieces were made with drinking straws, ostrich feathers and silver plastic paillettes. A very futuristic technological piece was a dress that was very robotic in a metallic gold called ’The Floating Dress (Kaikoku)’ by Hussein Chalayan. It is designed with 50 pollen Swarovski Crystals. What was so futuristic and dreamlike of it was that it had a rear entry panel which moved through invisible motor wheels, the dress almost moulds into the model – which was visually mesmerising.

It was a wonderful experience and all the garments were breathtaking and I look forward to the next theme from the Costume Institute.


Manus X Machina is on at The MET, Fifth Avenue, New York until 14th August 2016

By Shivanee Tailor

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