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Museum director Thomas P. Campbell and new Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute Andrew Bolton previewed the spring exhibit to journalists (who had just eaten their fill of croissants and miniature scones with clotted cream) in a roped-off area of the Great Hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art yesterday morning. Through a series of designer garments, Bolton and his team are attempting to show the interplay between and necessity of both handcraft and technology when it comes to fashion.
Sponsored in part by Apple, Manus x Machina will ask viewers to observer how the "exclusivity, spontaneity, and individuality" created by human hands and the "progress, democracy, and mass production" by the machine are equally important for the fashion of now and of the future.
The show was not, according to Bolton, inspired by last year's Alex Garland film Ex Machina, as many people have asked since the announcement of the title. It was, however, inspired by an earlier science-fiction flick, Fritz Lang's 1927 Metropolis. The plot "unfolds as a dialectical treatise of man versus machine," Bolton told the assemblage before linking its theme to the uniting principle of his show. "This oppositional relationship has played out in fashion since the birth of haute couture in the mid-19th century, when designers began to construct the dichotomy between the hand and the machine."
Manus x Machina will feature more than 100 examples of haute couture and avant garde ready-to-wear, spanning from an 1880s Worth gown to a 2015 Chanel suit. Designers on view will include Cristobal Balenciaga, Christian Dior, Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough of Proenza Schouler, Rei Kawakubo, Noir Kei Ninomiya, and Junya Watanabe of Comme des Garçons, among many more.
Bolton discussed some of the outfits, which were momentarily on view in the Great Hall. A Chanel suit from the 1960s was predominantly machine-sewn, while an ensemble from the label's falln/winter 2014/2015 haute couture collection featured 3D-printed overlay. An Iris van Herpen dress from the fall/winter 2013/2014 collection added "beast" into the man/machine duet as it incorporated gull skulls with synthetic pearls and glass eyes into its design (shown above).
One of Karl Lagerfeld's designs for Chanel, a wedding ensemble from the fall/winter 2014/2015 collection, was the most striking (and Instagram-able, at right) — no wonder Bolton cited it as an inspiration for the show. The regal train was hand-sketched and computer-manipulated to give the appearance of a pixilated pattern. The design was initially painted by hand, then transfer printed, then embroidered by hand. In total, it required 450 hours of work.
Whether this exhibit will be as popular as Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty or China: Through the Looking Glass remains to be seen, but the museum's already prepared with a link to advance tickets prominently featured on the exhibit's landing page. And during the presentation, some of the journalists took notes by hand, while others recorded the speech on their iPhones and snapped photographs with their cameras. Man and machine, together again.