Manus x Machina: Fashion In the Age of Technology at The Met’s Costume Institute

For the past several years I’ve been enthralled by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute annual exhibition organized under the aegis of the incomparable Anna Wintour who we all know as the editor of Vogue and who is a trustee of the Met lending her vision extensive connections to turn these exhibitions into blockbuster events. And, each year, I leave breathless thinking they will never be able to top this.

06.Ensemble,IrisVanHerpen,Spring2010This year’s event, Manus x Machina (Hand x Machine): Fashion in an Age of Technology, is no less spectacular taking us steps closer to the future of fashion. Presented in the Museum’s Robert Lehman Wing the show explores how designers are reconciling the handmade and the machine-made in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear.

Featuring more then 170 examples dating from the early 1900 when the sewing machine was invented and the founding of the haute couture through the onset of industrialization and mass production to the present day when technological advancements, such as 3-D printing, laser cutting, and computer-generated weaving and patterns are commonly used in creating high fashion. Highlights are numerous, but special mention goes to the handcrafted haute couture of Chanel and Dior and to the spectacular printed creations of Alexander McQueen and Iris van Harpen.

11.KaikokuFloatingDress,HusseinChalayan,Autumn2011Sponsored by Apple, Jonathan Ive, a co-Chair of the Gala and the firm’s Chief Designer who masterminds those glorious product designs, understands the fine line between technology and craftsman. “Both the automated and handcrafted process requires similar amounts of thoughtfulness and expertise,” he said. “There are instances where technology is optimized, but ultimately it’s the amount of care put into the craftsmanship, whether it’s machine-made or handmade, that transforms ordinary materials into something extraordinary.”

Or, simply put, technology reinvents material to form different shapes allowing us to push boundaries whereby hand crafted empathizes the refined intricacies of design creating another kind of aesthetic. In either case, as borne out by the fashion on display, machine vs. handmade practices borrow from one another thereby blurring the line between the two.

14.MxM,CaseStudy,ChanelWeddingEnsembleA word about staging a stunning complement to the minimalism of the fashion displayed. In the Robert Lehman Wing galleries on the museum’s ground and first floors, the exhibition has been installed within a dramatic cathedral-like structure by Shohei Shigematsu from OMA New York (the head office is in the Netherlands led by star architect Rem Koolhaus). White translucent scrims were constructed and stretched over an intentionally visible framework creating a building-within-a-building feel that unfolds as a series of alcoves. Each of these different ports: lacework, leatherwork, embroidery, pleating, tailors and dressmakers, and so on, showcases the garments along with projections of their details that work to amplify the craftsmanship in the pieces.

Manus x Machina (Hand x Machine): Fashion in an Age of Technology
Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
On view from May 5 – August 14


18. Upper Level Gallery View: Embroidery
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

6. Ensemble, Iris van Herpen (Dutch, born 1984),
spring/summer 2010 haute couture; The Metropolitan Museum
of Art, Purchase, Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, 2015
(2016.16a, b)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope

11. “Kaikoku” Floating Dress, Hussein Chalayan (British, born
Cyprus, 1970), autumn/winter 2011–12 prêt-à-porter; Courtesy
of Swarovski
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope

14. Upper Level Gallery View: Case Study
Wedding ensemble, Karl Lagerfeld ,
autumn/winter 2014–15 haute couture, back view; Courtesy of
CHANEL Patrimoine Collection
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

About Tamara Moscowitz (11 Articles)
Tamara Moscowitz is a writer on art, design, and home décor for digital and print media. Starting out as a features writer for Florida Designers Review and Florida Design she transitioned to online magazines that include, designintell/, and Currently, in addition to contributing articles to Woman Around Town she also writes for She was Founder and Managing Editor of “The Jewish Experience,” a magazine published under the auspices of the Center for Jewish History one of several undertakings as director of communications. As a book publicist she freelanced at Harcourt, among others, planning press and publicity activities for foreign authors. Her long association with PEN American Center, the international writers organization involved fundraising events and marketing literary forums.