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Manus x Machina:
Fashion in an Age of Technology

Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology

Costume Institute’s Spring 2016 Exhibition Focuses on the Hand and the Machine in Fashion

Costume Institute Benefit May 2 with Co-Chairs Idris Elba, Jonathan Ive, Taylor Swift, and Anna Wintour, and Honorary Chairs Nicolas Ghesquière, Karl Lagerfeld, and Miuccia Prada

Exhibition Dates: May 5–September 5, 2016 (extended from August 14)
Exhibition Location:  
The Met Fifth Avenue, Robert Lehman Wing

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute spring 2016 exhibition, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, on view from May 5 through September 5, and presented in the Museum’s Robert Lehman Wing explores how designers are reconciling the handmade and the machine-made in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear.

The exhibition is made possible by Apple.

Additional support is provided by Condé Nast.

“Fashion and technology are inextricably connected, more so now than ever before,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Met. “It is therefore timely to examine the roles that the handmade and the machine-made have played in the creative process.  This exhibition proposes a new view in which the hand and the machine, often presented as oppositional, are mutual and equal protagonists.”

In celebration of the exhibition opening, The Met's Costume Institute Benefit, also known as The Met Gala, takes place on Monday, May 2, 2016. The evening’s co-chairs are Idris Elba, Jonathan Ive, Taylor Swift, and Anna Wintour. Nicolas Ghesquière, Karl Lagerfeld, and Miuccia Prada serve as Honorary Chairs. This event is The Costume Institute’s main source of annual funding for exhibitions, publications, acquisitions, and capital improvements.

“Traditionally, the distinction between the haute couture and prêt-à-porter was based on the handmade and the machine-made, but recently this distinction has become increasingly blurred as both disciplines have embraced the practices and techniques of the other,” said Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute. “Manus x Machina challenges the conventions of the hand/machine dichotomy and proposes a new paradigm germane to our age of technology.”

Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Chief Design Officer, said, “Both the automated and handcrafted process require similar amounts of thoughtfulness and expertise. There are instances where technology is optimized, but ultimately it’s the amount of care put into the craftsmanship, whether it’s machine-made or handmade, that transforms ordinary materials into something extraordinary.”

Exhibition Overview

Manus x Machina features more than 170 examples of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear, dating from the early 1900s to the present. The exhibition addresses the founding of the haute couture in the 19th century, when the sewing machine was invented, and the emergence of a distinction between the hand (manus) and the machine (machina) at the onset of industrialization and mass production. It explores this ongoing dichotomy, in which hand and machine are presented as discordant tools in the creative process, and questions this relationship and the significance of the long-held distinction between haute couture and ready-to-wear.

The Robert Lehman Wing galleries, on the Museum’s first floor and ground level, have been transformed into a building-within-a-building using white scrims. The space houses a series of case studies in which haute couture and ready-to-wear ensembles are decoded to reveal their hand/machine DNA. A 2014 haute couture wedding dress by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel with a 20-foot train occupies a central cocoon, with details of its embroidery projected onto the domed ceiling. The scuba knit ensemble, one of the inspirations for the exhibition, stands as a superlative example of the confluence between the handmade and the machine-made–the pattern on the train was hand-painted with gold metallic pigment, machine-printed with rhinestones, and hand-embroidered with pearls and gemstones.

The exhibition is structured around the traditional métiers of the haute couture. The first floor unfolds as a series of alcoves, examining the petites mains workshops of embroidery, featherwork, and artificial flowers. The ground floor space is arranged as an enfilade, examining pleating, lacework, and leatherwork. A room dedicated to toiles and the ateliers of tailoring (tailleur) and dressmaking (flou)—the traditional division of a maison de couture—anchors the ground-floor gallery. On both floors, traditional hand techniques are discussed alongside innovative technologies such as 3-D printing, computer modeling, bonding and laminating, laser cutting, and ultrasonic welding.

Designers in the exhibition include Cristobal Balenciaga, Boué Soeurs, Thom Browne, Sarah Burton (Alexander McQueen), Pierre Cardin, Hussein Chalayan (Vionnet), Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli (Valentino), André Courrèges, Christian Dior, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana (Dolce & Gabbana), Alber Elbaz (Lanvin), Mariano Fortuny, John Galliano (Christian Dior, Maison Margiela), Nicolas Ghesquière (Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton), Hubert de Givenchy, Madame Grès, Halston, Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough (Proenza Schouler), Iris van Herpen, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren (Viktor & Rolf), Marc Jacobs (Louis Vuitton), Charles James, Christopher Kane, Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons), Junko Koshino, Karl Lagerfeld (Chanel), Helmut Lang, Mary McFadden, Alexander McQueen, Martin Margiela, Issey Miyake, Thierry Mugler, Noir Kei Ninomiya (Comme des Garçons), Norman Norell, Miuccia Prada, Paul Poiret, Gareth Pugh, Paco Rabanne, Noa Raviv, Simone Rocha, Yves Saint Laurent (Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent), Marios Schwab,  Raf Simons (Christian Dior), Maiko Takeda, Riccardo Tisci (Givenchy), threeASFOUR, Giambattista Valli, Madeleine Vionnet, Junya Watanabe (Comme des Garçons), Yohji Yamamoto, and others.

Exhibition Credits

Manus x Machina is organized by Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute. Shohei Shigematsu, Director of OMA New York, led the exhibition design in collaboration with The Met’s Design Department. OMA New York also led the concept design for The Costume Institute Benefit with Raul Avila producing the gala décor for the 10th consecutive year.

Related Content


A book, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, by Andrew Bolton features interviews with Sarah Burton (Alexander McQueen), Hussein Chalayan, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli (Valentino), Nicolas Ghesquière (Louis Vuitton), Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough (Proenza Schouler), Iris van Herpen, Christopher Kane, Karl Lagerfeld (Chanel), Miuccia Prada, and Gareth Pugh. The publication accompanies the exhibition and is illustrated with new photography by Nicholas Alan Cope. Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, the $50 edition has 248 pages and 178 color illustrations. A limited edition of 600 copies, available only at The Met, comes in a hand numbered, laser cut, high-density polyethylene box that contains a specially bound volume for $295. An exclusive color print showing 600 images of ensembles featured in the publication is included.

A special feature on the Museum’s website, www.metmuseum.org/ManusxMachina, provides information about the exhibition. Follow us on Facebook.com/metmuseum, Instagram.com/metmuseum, and Twitter.com/metmuseum to join the conversation about the exhibition and gala benefit. Use #ManusxMachina, #CostumeInstitute, and #MetGala on Instagram and Twitter.

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Updated July 7
, 2016

Image: Wedding ensemble, Karl Lagerfeld (French, born Hamburg, 1938) for House of Chanel (French, founded 1913), autumn/winter 2014–15 haute couture, back view; Courtesy of CHANEL Patrimoine Collection
Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope


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