Thursday, July 21, 2016


It's taken years for the Costume Institute at the Met to find its footing, becoming one of the most anticipated and talked about temporary exhibits on the museum's calendar. Theses exhibits now draw more visitors than almost any other category scheduled at the Met. Retrospectives of the world's greatest artists, assemblies of antiquities, exhibits devoted to cataloguing the art of specific parts of our world all are beginning to fall short of the record number of visitors coming to the costume shows.
This has all been helped by the red carpet gala event associated with the opening of these exhibits where celebrities and dignitaries plunk down $25,000 each to walk the red carpet and the event garners major coverage from a worldwide media. This year's exhibit, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, didn't disappoint.
I, in my pee-sized brain, didn't get the title at first. I thought it was going to have something to do with futuristic design, the type seen in all those sci-fi adventure films a genre that doesn't hold a lot of appeal for me. Even the name sounded a bit Mad Max to me. Here's where it pays to know you're Latin: Manus meaning hand and Machina meaning machine.
The exhibit is more an essay on haute couture that is made by hand as opposed to avant-garde ready-to-wear that is made by machine and where they intersect. The pieces shown were collected from the early 20th century to the present and include pieces made by both hand and machine with materials from traditional fabrics to 3D constructed plastic.
The show was moved from the Anna Wintour Gallery to the more prominent Robert Lehman galleries at the back of the first floor of the museum. From there the exhibit was segmented into categories like embroidery, beading, and feathers.
A prime example and the star of the show was a haute couture bridal gown designed by Karl Lagerfeld for Channel. The gown was made from scuba knit with a twenty-foot train that was first hand-painted with gold metallic paint, then machine printed with rhinestones and finally hand-sewn with pearls and gemstones.
It was a show-stopping example of integrating the handmade with machine-made. The big question from the woman standing next to me was, "Who wore this and how pregnant was she?"
The exhibit was another step in moving fashion away from being a trade and into being accepted as a true art form. I can't show every piece but here are some of the pieces that stopped me in my tracks.
The first section we went into behind the Channel wedding gown was devoted to feathers
I'm going to start with an evening dress from the House of Balenciaga's autumn/winter 1965-66 haute couture collection. This dress is a perfect place to start looking at how the machine work and hand-work have been used in one garment. The pink silk net was first sewn on a machine and then hand finished after which it was trimmed with hand-glued ostrich feathers.
This feathered evening dress by the House of Givenchy was presented the following year using a similar technique
Who knew rooster feathers could look so luxurious. You usually think of the exotic when you think about the use of feathers in fashion but here the lowly chicken has been taken to haute couture by Saint Laurent.
Embellishment was all over the place but nowhere so beautifully done as this machine-sewn white silk organdy dress by Prada with hand-embroidered opalescent plastic paillettes and clear beads
I went to the show along with my friend, Alice Hope, an amazing artist in her own right. Alice's works transform the mundane into the spectacular. This dress was reflective of her work done in a medium Alice has used before. Iris van Herpen, a Dutch artist, constructed this by hand-sculpting iron fillings using magnets to hold the filings in place until they could be coated in polyurethane resin to permanently freeze them into this amazing dress
Following the use of unconventional materials this dress by Alexander McQueen using a machine-sewn shell with an overlay of hand-embroidered red-orange glass beads, freshwater pearls, pieces of coral, and dyed shells.
Keeping with the maritime theme these dresses all have their inspiration taken from the sea. So much of design is taken from nature and the sea is a big source of inspiration; fish scales, shells, coral are visible
This was one of my favorite pieces, a dress created by 3-D printing out of epoxy. It was like an exquisite piece of coral turned into a dress that became a piece of art
I have no idea of how or if one's movement would be constrained by this cage like skirt also constructed by a 3-D printer. The ensemble by Christopher Kane was labeled as pret-a-porter from his 2013 collection.
I know "machina" means machine but the dress in the center actually has a "mechanical" devise that allows the skirt to both expand and contract. It all pointed to my confusion from the start with the labeling for this show: futuristic styling vs. production by machine
No show on fashion would be complete without the iconic Channel suit. The only thing is these suits all used 3-D constructed pieces as a part of their assemblage.
The way I started out was by going back in history to that point where the sewing machine came into the fashion construction process. In the applique section of the show Paul Poiret's winter coat from 1919 was shown with this very intricate hand-appliqued white kidskin cutwork and a fur neck wrap.
Flou is another term I learned from going to the show. It refers to a type of apparel know as soft meaning less structured, flowing and these dresses exemplify that concept.
This pret-a-porter suit by Thierry Mugler was probably a disappointment to anyone without a camera. When you looked at the suit with your naked eye it looked only like a suit made of black silk velvet with a massive amount of seaming but once you saw it through a photograph the seams became fluorescent stripes of the most extraordinary neon green
Pleating was another category and this dress by Israeli Noa Raviv took the technique and literally transformed it to art
The last section before hitting the gift store was leather and this jacket of hand-cut white leather boggles the mind by its extraordinary craftsmanship, a perfect match of manus x machina.

Dovima with Elephants, 1955
Richard Avedon, photographer
Represented by Gagosian Gallery, NYC



  2. Thanks for a great tour. And I didn't realize you paid to be a red carpet star. Silly little me.