Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology

The exhibition is set to wow – but so is the gift shop

The Costume Institute’s annual spring exhibition is a highlight of the New York cultural/couture calendar, and this year’s show – Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology – promises to be one of the most exciting yet. Opening on May 5 and running until August 14, Manus x Machina will explore the impact of technology on fashion – from the founding of haute couture in the 19th century to today’s ready-to-wear. The exhibition will be preceded by the Met Gala on May 2 – a star-studded celebration overseen by co-chairs Idris Elba, Jony Ive, Taylor Swift and Anna Wintour, as well as honorary chairs Nicolas Ghesquière, Karl Lagerfeld, and Miuccia Prada – which will raise funds for the Institute’s programming and acquisitions.

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“Traditionally, the distinction between haute couture and prêt-à-porter was based on the handmade and the machine-made, but recently this distinction has become increasingly blurred as both disciplines have embraced the practices and techniques of the other,” says Andrew Bolton, curator of The Costume Institute. Manus x Machina will include over 150 handmade (manus) and mass-produced (machina) garments that will illustrate the relationship between these two very different modes of production.

Designers featured in the exhibition include greats from Cristóbal Balenciaga to Yohji Yamamoto, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel to Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons), and Madame Grès to Mary Katrantzou. Displayed in galleries that evoke a traditional couture atelier (complete with petites mains workshops for embroidery, feather and lacework and braiding) will be pairings of exquisitely embellished haute couture gowns and garments – such as an embroidered Chanel wedding ensemble (second picture) from autumn/winter 2013/2014 and a 1969/1970 Yves Saint Laurent feather evening dress (first picture) – and their machine-made, ready-to-wear counterparts. In contrast are ensembles created using cutting-edge technologies such as 3D printing, laser cutting, thermo shaping and ultrasonic welding – to name but a few.

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In addition to the stunning fashion on display, a Shohei Shigematsu/OMA-designed pop-up shop will feature covetable merchandise – some of it limited edition (such as three prints of images of the show, $75 each). Highlights include an organically inspired Endo clutch by Flowen (from $3,950) and scarves ($480, third picture) by Israeli 3D designer Noa Raviv, and vibrant Issey Miyake Bao Bao bags ($450-$925, fifth picture) as well as his Pleats Please scarves ($215, fourth picture). I have my eye on colourful silicone jewellery inspired by sea life from Paris’s Tzuri Gueta (rings from $95-$445), glasses-cum-magnifying glass ($90) by Maison Margiela, and a sumptuous limited-edition exhibition catalogue ($295).

“Both the automated and handcrafted process require similar amounts of thoughtfulness and expertise,” says Jony Ive, Apple’s chief design officer. “There are instances where technology is optimised, but ultimately it’s the amount of care put into the craftsmanship that transforms ordinary materials into something extraordinary.” Manus x Machina promises to be The Met’s most extraordinary spring spectacle…

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