Every May, I look forward to the colorful parade of celebrities in over the top outfits from the Met Gala. I must admit I am quite fond of a well executed “naked dress.” I am equally enthusiastic about the Met’s costume exhibits, except for Alexander McQueen’s in 2011, which I could not get into. I was absolutely dazzled by this year’s show “Manus X Machina: Fashion in an age of Technology,” which is a stunning celebration of both haute couture and modern ready-to-wear fashion. The exhibit, set up in the Robert Lehman Wing and on view until August 14th, focuses on the growing distinction between the hand (manus) and the machine (machina) in the fashion world. Traditional techniques of embroidery, artificial flowering, and pleating are juxtaposed with technologically advanced ones such as 3D printing and laser cutting. Visitors can expect to be both captivated and overwhelmed by the abundance of luxurious garments, as well as fascinated by the intricacies of the craft of haute couture.
The entrance of the exhibit features a majestic Chanel wedding gown designed by Karl Lagerfeld—Brian Eno’s “An Ending (Ascent)” plays, the notes quietly looming throughout the domed atrium. My companion and I spent about ten minutes or so staring at the beautiful twenty foot train train of the gown and meticulously attempted to get the perfect angle for our Instagram posts. After admiring the wedding gown, we moved on to conquer the other halls in the exhibit of seemingly endless concoctions of tulle, silk, and sequins. The rest of the exhibit is organized according to various métiers, or crafts, which include tailoring, lace, feather-work, and flowering. Each installation is accompanied by a copiously detailed description of the construction process of the garments. Out of the 170 pieces on display, I could not possibly pinpoint a singular “best” item. Manus X Machina features opulent gowns by Dior, whimsical structural dresses by Issey Miyake, a wall of Chanel Suits, and other designs by Alexander McQueen, Margiela, and many other important innovators in fashion.
While the curators of the exhibit could have very easily infused Manus X Machina with too much esoteric detail about the technology of these garments, the exhibit is at once viscerally and intellectually stimulating. It neither presents fashion as frivolous nor does it skimp on the wow factor. This exhibit is certainly one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by the Costume Institute and I think it will be difficult to top in terms of scale and grandeur. Manus X Machina is a perfect summer outing for fashion nerds and science nerds alike. Be sure to peruse the gift shop at the end which in addition to adorable children’s books about Coco Chanel, offers some stylish items including the coveted Issey Miyake Bao Bao bag. I will definitely return to Manus X Machina to brainstorm for my future gown closet and perhaps leave with a Miyake bag or two. A girl can dream, right?
“Manus x Machina: Fashion in an age of Technology,” is on view from May 5 through August 14, 2016.