Manus x Machina, the MET’s 2016 Costume Institute exhibit, celebrates the progression from hand-made haute couture to machine-made garments from it’s conception in the 19C to today. “The initial idea for the exhibition came about when I was looking at Saint Laurent’s iconic Mondrian dress,” says Andrew Bolton, curator of the exhibition. “In examining its construction with one of our conservators, we discovered that it was almost entirely made by machine, in fact the only presence of the hand was in the hem and the zipper.” It was this minute detail that planted the seed in Bolton’s mind for this year’s costume institute showcase: to present an exhibition that tracks the history and movement of hand-made to machine-made couture.
The exhibit is immediately a sacred space upon entering. The Robert Lehman Wing gallery has been transformed into an arched atrium, with billowing projections, transparent walls and echoing music. The core of the room houses the star of the collection: Lagerfeld’s Wedding Ensemble from Fall/Winter 2014-15 for Chanel. The gown, which is conservative and crisp at the front, is balanced by its carpet train—a magnificent gold hand-painted texture that sits underneath a sea of pearls and gemstones. Surrounding the look is a collection of 19C sewing and textile encyclopedias, which serve as a clever and creative contrast to the Lagerfeld’s contemporary dress that fills up the rest of the room.
The other garments, which sit along the walls around the main atrium and the floor underneath, houses well crafted and fashion forward pieces from the likes of Dior, Givenchy, Lanvin, Chanel and more. Every look in the collection focuses on complicated construction, and notes whether the piece is hand made or machine-sewn.
Manus x Machina is perhaps one of the first costume institute collections to really challenge space and time, as it bridges together the past and present in a most tactile and innovative way.
Truly, this collection tells a gorgeous narrative of where we have been in fashion design and where we are going.