’Manus x Machina': The Met puts couture's métiers in an OMA-designed spotlight

Manus x Machina’: The Met puts couture’s métiers in an OMA-designed spotlight
The Met's annual fashion exhibition, ‘Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology’, showcases the impact of technology and industrial production on the métiers of haute couture. Pictured: a dress from Dior's S/S 2015 haute couture collection
(Image credit: The Met)

Machine-made fashion has always threatened to overwhelm the more refined, yet fading traditions of hand craftsmanship, but the Costume Institute’s latest staging of ‘Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology’ will happily debunk that diatribe. Comprised of over 170 pieces of haute couture garments and envelope-pushing ready-to-wear pieces, the exhibition traces the development of haute couture and discusses how industrial production has impacted (and in some cases, even continued) the highly worked, intricately detailed face of fashion.

Staged in the Robert Lehman Wing galleries on the museum’s ground and first floors, the exhibition has been installed within a dramatic cathedral-like structure designed by OMA. Constructed from translucent white scrims that have been stretched over an intentionally visible framework, the building-within-a-building feel unfolds as a series of alcoves and porte-cochères that radiate out from a central domed atrium.

OMA’s lead designer Shohei Shigematsu says, ‘We really wanted to create a shell that integrated the media, garments and texts together. Each of these different porte-cochères showcase the garments, along with projections of their details that work to amplify the craftsmanship in the pieces.’

Visually, the installation has an intentionally unfinished quality, visible from the skeleton framework of structural steel, wooden boards and exposed spotlights that peek out from behind and between the scrims, that have been stretched over and tucked into the system. Juxtaposed by the unadulterated finery exhibited in each space, the concept and design brings a modern, seductive quality to the exhibition that completely upends Wong Kar-wai’s sumptuous dreamscape from the year before.

Sartorially, ‘Manus x Machina’ justly spotlights each of haute couture’s fading métiers – from featherwork and embroidered flowers, to leatherwork, pleating, lacework and construction. Each category is armed with specimens of both tradition and the new. By pitting Iris van Herpen’s synthetic knit dresses, festooned with acrylic ‘feathers’ and fringe, with a 1956 Cristóbal Balenciaga gown hand-finished with glued pink ostrich feathers, the case is certainly made that technology has far from diminished the credibility of couture’s fine art.

‘Manus x Machina' challenges the conventions of the hand/machine dichotomy and proposes a new paradigm germane to our age of technology,’ says Andrew Bolton, the Costume Institute’s curator. ‘Traditionally, the distinction between the haute couture and prêt-à-porter was based on the handmade and the machine-made, but this distinction has become increasingly blurred as both disciplines have embraced the practices and techniques of the other.’

a wedding ensemble from Chanel’s A/W 2005 haute couture collection

The exhibition design has been conceived by OMA, who installed a dramatic cathedral-like structure constructed from translucent white scrims that have been stretched over an intentionally visible framework. Pictured: a wedding ensemble from Chanel's A/W 2005 haute couture collection

(Image credit: The Met)

A hand-embroidered Alexander McQueen gown from 2012

‘Manus x Machina’ justly spotlights each of haute couture’s fading métiers – from featherwork and embroidered flowers, to leatherwork, pleating, lacework and construction. Pictured: a pair of hand-finished Christian Dior gowns from 1949 (pictured left and centre) and a hand-embroidered Alexander McQueen gown from 2012 (right)

(Image credit: The Met)

’Manus x Machina': The Met puts couture's métiers in an OMA-designed spotlight

Pictured left: Chanel's wedding ensemble from A/W 2014 (left) inspired the curator Andrew Bolton with its 'haute couture without the couture' philosophy. Right: Iris van Herpen's 3D printed white polymide dress features machine-sewn white goat leather and hand-cut acrylic fringe 

(Image credit: The Met)

’Manus x Machina': The Met puts couture's métiers in an OMA-designed spotlight

OMA’s lead designer Shohei Shigematsu says, ‘We really wanted to create a shell that integrated the media, garments and texts together. Each of these different porte-cochères showcase the garments, along with projections of their details that work to amplify the craftsmanship in the pieces'

(Image credit: The Met)

’Manus x Machina': The Met puts couture's métiers in an OMA-designed spotlight

Three gowns from the exhibition's featherwork gallery. Pictured from left: a hand-sewn black silk tulle dress, hand-embroidered with black crystals by Lemarié from Chanel's A/W 2015 haute couture collection; a machine-sewn black silk-wool gazar dress, hand-embroidered with black plastic drinking straws from Gareth Pugh's A/W 2015 prêt-à-porter collection; and an evening dress featuring hand-glued brown and white ostrich feathers by Hubert de Givenchy from 1966–67

(Image credit: The Met)

’Manus x Machina': The Met puts couture's métiers in an OMA-designed spotlight

A view of the artificial flowers gallery, featuring gowns by (from left to right) Dior, Prada and Louis Vuitton

(Image credit: The Met)

INFORMATION

’Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology’ is on view from 5 May – 14 August. For more information, visit The Met’s website (opens in new tab)

Photography courtesy of The Met

ADDRESS

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Ave
New York, NY 10028

VIEW GOOGLE MAPS

Pei-Ru Keh is the US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru has held various titles at Wallpaper* since she joined in 2007. She currently reports on design, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru has taken a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars and actively seeks out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.