A New Age of Fashion
Posted on 09 May 2016
Few events on the fashion calendar attract as much widespread media attention and create as much buzz as the annual Costume Institute Benefit - or as it colloquially known, the Met Gala. But behind the luxurious fashions that grace the red carpet is an exhibition whose interests lie in the position of fashion within a wider social and psychological context.
“Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” will focus on the dichotomy between handmade couture and machine-made fashion. “Traditionally, the distinction between the haute couture and prêt-à-porter was based on the handmade and the machine-made,” explains Andrew Bolton, the British-born curator of the Costume Institute at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, “but recently this distinction has become increasingly blurred as both disciplines have embraced the practices and techniques of the other.”
Manus x Machina will be the first exhibition to fall under Bolton’s full charge since he took over from Harold Koda as the Institute’s curator in charge in January. Once a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Bolton moved to the Met in 2002, where he has curated or co-curated 13 shows. He made his name with Savage Beauty, the Alexander McQueen show staged in 2011, a year after the designer’s death.
The idea behind the exhibition was inspired by a synthetic, scuba-knit material wedding dress seen at Karl Lagerfeld’s AW14 Chanel couture show. The relationship between the hyper-modern, techno print and the artisanal skill of the dress-maker is highlighted by a digitally manipulated baroque pattern and hand-stitched rhinestones. “Perhaps it used to matter if a dress was hand-made of machine-made, at least in the haute couture – but now things are completely different,” said Lagerfeld, in an explanation of his dress posted beside the exhibit. “The digital revolution has changed the world.”
The curators were interested in the preconceptions about traditional tailoring versus machinery: if something is hand made it suggests exclusivity and individualism whilst machine-made clothes give the impression of mass-production and also inferiority - a preconception they wanted to challenge. The exhibition presents the future of fashion technology as something romantic, rather than a science-fiction inspired chromatic world and looks at technology as a seamless part of the creative process.
Underneath it all, however, Bolton has a deeper reason for focusing the show so squarely on process. In an interview with FT.com he said: “I do think the moment in fashion is a bit of a house of cards. Fashion is so fast that people are losing sight of the role of the designer and ideas of creativity. There are very valid concerns, and I do feel the fashion system needs to be addressed. People lose sight of the materiality and artistry that goes into it.”
Manus x Machina may appear to the naked eye to be engaged with the future but Bolton’s intent is not to advocate forward thinking. In fact, he desires quite the opposite. “I hope this show allows people to refocus, and recalibrate, and to slow down,” he says.