The Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute presents the collaboration between man and technology in today’s haute-couture and avant-garde fashion in its Spring 2016 exhibition “Manus x Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology”. Although the title of the exhibition is appropriately deceiving, sounding like “man vs. machine”, “manus” actually means “hand” in Latin. The exhibition explores how technology in fashion overcomes the limitations of hand-made production, while remaining attached to it in its roots and inspiration.
The exhibition is organized in circular paths, giving you, the ever-excited visitor, the satisfaction of knowing that you haven’t missed a single piece, returning to the same spot where you started. As you step into the first gallery, you are in paradise, surrounded by Dior’s, Chanel’s, and Prada’s magical dresses in pastel colors and beautiful fabrics. After the first minutes of awe, you think it might be a good idea to read the labels, and there comes another moment of enlightenment – some of these garments are from as early as 1930s. The connection between a tailored Chanel suit from the 1950s and a classic Dior dress and its modern counterparts, becomes clear, as well as the point at which techniques such as 3D printing and laser cutting are introduced. Modern methods imitate earlier ones, and take them one step further, giving them more a more dimensional and dynamic feel. The categorization of each gallery according to material or method such as leather, lace, embroidery, and pleating also makes it easy to compare the productions of the “manus” and the “machina” side by side.
Some highlights of the exhibition include high fashion dresses made of plastic straws, dresses with parts that are remotely controlled, and plastic exoskeletons made by 3D printing attached to garments, as we discussed almost one year ago. While you may imagine clothes not unlike those of science fiction films, or costume-like get ups, seeing the origins and evolution of fashion traditions, as well as the execution of imaginative ideas, makes it harder not to take them seriously as the future of fashion, worthy of being exhibited in an art museum.
The exhibition is open through September 5th. A highly recommended activity for when you feel like stepping into a different world on a hot, hectic NYC day – both back in time and into the future, together.