Manus x Machina Met Exhibit Review
The annual Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute exhibition closed earlier this week after being extended until the first week of September. This year's stunning Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology drew in thousands of visitors from around the world and examined the evolving relationship between hand made versus machine made haute couture and ready-to-wear fashion.
The exhibit, which opened to much pomp and circumstance this May during the star-studded Met Gala, was more demure than last year's highly acclaimed cultural commentary, China: Through the Looking Glass. Manus x Machina instead hones in on the distinctions between the hand and the machine, and how emerging technology has affected modern day understandings of artistry in the fashion industry. "It explores this ongoing dichotomy, in which hand and machine are presented as discordant tools in the creative process, and questions the relationship and distinction between haute couture and ready-to-wear" (Met Museum).
The exhibition itself winds through the Met's airy Robert Lehman Wing galleries. Enlarged videos behind several of the dresses on display showcase the painstaking details and effort that go into crafting Chanel feather-coated wedding dresses and bedazzled Christian Dior haute couture gowns. Otherwise, the exhibit is quite plain–soft, white concave backdrops whose simplicity is meant to highlight the decadence of the dresses on display.
Aside from a handful of truly breathtaking gowns from Dior, Chanel and Prada, intricate 3D printed works from Dutch designer Iris van Herpen that resemble everything from sea anemones and coral to a human skeletons were a definite standout. Motorized dress forms designed by Hussein Chalayan that could take the form of the wearer via remote control defied common logic, especially when the floral embellishments removed themselves from the dress and took flight, cascading around the model like a flurry of mechanized pollen.
The exhibit felt less extensive and thorough than last year's–for the most part, plaques indicated the materials used for each look and when it was made. Occasionally, commentary from the designer was included, which quoted everything from inspiration and design processes to the number of ateliers required to finish the gown. The exhibit predominately featured Western designers, most hailing from big name fashion houses like Louis Vuitton and Chanel. The lesser known designers arguably presented the most intriguing and ingenious pieces, perhaps a reflection of their relative artistic freedom at the helms of smaller fashion houses. The inclusion of various haute couture pieces from more emerging and international designers would have definitely elevated and diversified the otherwise Euro-centric vision of Manus x Machina.
Overall, Manus x Machina really plunges the viewer into the world of high fashion couturiers. From familiarizing visitors with the terms and processes associated with different techniques, forms of labor and materials involved in the construction of each piece, to exploring the inspiration behind some of the exhibit's most ethereal looks.
Follow this link for exclusive interviews with several of the designer's featured in the exhibit's catalog, compiled by Andrew Bolton, curator in charge of the Costume Institute.
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