The exhibition Manus × Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, open through August 14, 2016, traces the evolution of fashion from the founding of the haute couture through the onset of industrialization and mass production to the present day, when designers employ technologies such as 3D printing, laser cutting, and computer-generated weaving and patterns to create high fashion. In a similar vein, the exhibition catalogue pushes the limits of contemporary book design and production and, like the fashions in the show, uses a striking mix of hand ("manus") and machine ("machina") techniques.
Each of the 90 ensembles in Manus × Machina has a caption that unpacks the "DNA" of the garment, noting what was made by hand and what was done by machine. In this post, I'll discuss the "DNA" of the book and share a behind-the-scenes look at its complex production.
The production process begins at printers in Verona and Padua, in Italy. The printing press prints four colors of ultraviolet ink—cyan, magenta, yellow, and black—onto sheets that have already been stamped with silver foil. These high-quality inks react to ultraviolet lights inside the press, setting them almost instantly with the application of light energy.
At the next stage of production, the printed sheets arrive at a bindery in Vicenza, Italy, where they are folded, cut, sewn, and bound. The bindery applies the interior covers made of die-cut board.
The book's cover embodies the subject of the catalogue and exhibition by combining techniques done by both machine and hand. The inner cover is based on punch cards used in the first automated Jacquard looms, a 19th-century invention that mechanized the weaving of intricately patterned textiles. This is hand-inserted into the outer cover, which is made up of three sheets of plastic with machine-welded seams. The rigid middle layer of plastic in the front cover is screen-printed by hand, while the flexible outer layers protect the design and allow the book to open easily.
Manus × Machina also contains a second, removable book of interviews by Andrew Bolton, curator in charge of The Costume Institute, with 12 of the designers featured in the catalogue. The designers describe the creative approaches they use to reconcile their vision for their work with reality.
The interview book features a flexible, high-tech Tyvek cover that references the Tyvek dress by Maison Margiela featured in the first section of the catalogue and prevents damage to the book as it is removed from the plastic flap. Tyvek is probably best known as the material used in shipping envelopes; this durable material allows for easy reading without the possibility of rips and tears.
When all the components are folded, collated, trimmed, sewn, and glued, the catalogue and interview book are inserted into the plastic cover flaps by hand. Each finished book is individually packaged in a protective poly bag before being shipped.
In both its content and the materials and process used to produce it, the catalogue for Manus × Machina represents the central theme of the exhibition: the relationship between hand and machine in design and production. A fitting complement to the exhibition, it is available for purchase online, at The Met Store, and in the exhibition shop.
Now at The Met: Rachel High, "The Same, but Different: Nicholas Alan Cope on Photographing for the Manus × Machina Catalogue" (May 5, 2016)