Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology—Gallery Views

Gallery views of The Costume Institute's spring 2016 exhibition, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, narrated by exhibition curator Andrew Bolton.

The Costume Institute's spring 2016 exhibition, presented in the Museum's Robert Lehman Wing, explores how fashion designers are reconciling the handmade and the machine-made in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear.


Andrew Bolton: The subtitle of the exhibition is Fashion in an Age of Technology, and the show isn't really about fashion and technology per se; it's more about techniques and processes. I think people are expecting the exhibition to be about robots and darlicks, and it really isn't about that at all. It's about rather subtle hidden technologies.

The show's taking place in the Lehman Wing and we've actually created a building within a building. It looks like a 21st-century hybrid between traditional couture atelier and a scientific laboratory. And it unfolds as a series of rooms really based on the traditional métiers of the haute couture.

One of the garments that inspired the exhibition is a dress by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel. It embodies both the handmade and the machine made within one garment. Initially sketched by hand, by Karl, and then it was manipulated on the computer to give a pixelated, baroque pattern. Then the pattern itself was hand-painted onto the train then transfer printed by machine and then finished by hand by Lasarge with gemstones.

The exhibition itself is structured around Diderot's encyclopedia, the first time that fashion was elevated to the same status as arts and sciences. What's interesting is that the métiers within Diderot's encyclopedia still structure the métiers of the haute couture.

Embroidery, featherwork, and artificial flowers. And on the lower level, you'll come across lacework, leatherwork, pleating, and a special category on tailoring and dressmaking.

As you walk through the exhibition there's conversations or case studies between pret-a-porter and the haute couture in terms of the processes involved with those techniques.

People are so preoccupied by the next thing, the next thing there's a lack of appreciation in the making of fashion. Part of the exhibition's intention is really to make people look at garments—that it's not just the hand and the machine techniques that go into the making of fashion but the concepts embodied within one particular garment.

Instead of seeing the hand and the machine as dichotomous, the show attempts to show it more as a continuum or spectrum of practice. I think technology should be used especially by good designers, as a way to enhance their design practice. And I think that within fashion people sort of cling on to those notions of the haute couture and ready-to-wear. And I think what I'm finding is that the gap is really diminishing.

The exhibition is trying to come up with a new paradigm within fashion that's not so polarizing as the haute couture, ready-to-wear, handmade, machine made.

Video Footage
Excerpt from ONE LOOK (2015), presented by VisionaireFILM, directed by Stylianos Pangalos, produced by Cecilia Dean and James Kaliardos

Excerpt from Making of the CHANEL Fall-Winter 2015/16 Haute Couture Collection, © CHANEL

Excerpt from A new design by Iris Van Herpen, © Centraal Museum Utrecht/Wendy van Wilgenburg. Special thanks to Iris van Herpen and Materialise.

Production Credits
Director: Christopher Noey
Producer: Kate Farrell 
Video Editor: Stephanie Wuertz
Jib and Camera Operator: Kelly Richardson
Lighting Designer: Ned Hallick
Gaffers: Foster McLaughlin 
Production Coordinator: Lisa Rifkind
Production Assistants: Dia Felix, Sarah Cowan

© 2016 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Related Videos