Manus x Machina: Fashion in an age of technology

Updated 6th May 2016
Manus x Machina: Fashion in an age of technology
Written by CNN Staff
The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Spring 2016 exhibition, titled Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, focuses on the role the handmade and machine-made play in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear, and their symbolic associations over the years.
The exhibition opens to the public on May 5 after debuting Monday at the annual star-studded Met Gala, hosted by Anna Wintour.
With over 120 pieces displayed -- including designs from Christian Dior and Coco Chanel, and contemporary talents like Nicholas Ghesquiere, Miuccia Prada and Karl Lagerfeld -- the exhibition seeks to challenge visitors' perceptions.
Pieces that may seem highly futuristic, like Iris van Herpen's bird dress from July 2013, are in fact mostly created by hand, while iconic vintage garments were made with the help of machines.

Manus vs Machina

Ever since the sewing machine was invented, the distinction and discordance between the hand (manus) and machine (machina) has been an issue within garment production, with the hand-made typically seen as higher quality. (However, over the years detractors of the hand have criticized it as elitist or anti-modern, while the machine represents progress and democracy.)
Andrew Bolton, curator in charge of The Costume Institute explained: "I think what the exhibition tries to address are those symbolic associations of the hand and the machine. Sometimes employing the machine is more time consuming and more expensive than the hand."
"The majority of pieces in the exhibitions are an amalgam of the hand and the machine. It is very rare to have a garment in which the hand and the machine is completely absent, whether it is haute couture or ready to wear."

A look inside the exhibition

With such a vast subject, stretching back to the 1900s, Bolton explained how he narrowed it down.
"I have really focused on designers who have had a history of trying reconcile the hand and the machine in their design process, and who deliberately make it part of their process."
Surprisingly, though it examines the interplay between fashion and technology, the exhibition does not include any wearable technology.
"Wearable technology is something I am very ambivalent about [...] I think the biggest problem with wearable tech is the aesthetics of it and the fact that it is really just there as a gimmick, as opposed to something that has a realistic application in terms of fashion."
Watch the video above for a look inside Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as curator Andrew Bolton explains the major themes of the exhibition.