Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology at The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been extended by three weeks through Labor Day, Monday, September 5. The exhibition, organized by The Costume Institute, opened to the public on May 5, and has drawn more than 350,000 visitors in its first nine weeks. Originally scheduled to close on August 14, the exhibition explores how designers reconcile the handmade and the machine-made in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear. It addresses the distinction between the hand (manus) and the machine (machina) as discordant tools in the creative process, and questions the changing delineation between the haute couture and ready-to-wear.
“With the transformation of the Robert Lehman Wing into a breathtaking cathedral to couture, we want to give as many people as possible the chance to experience this exhibition,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Met. “The show invites visitors to explore the artistry of over 170 haute couture and ready-to-wear ensembles. It is a wonderful way to discover the magic behind the making of fashion.”
To date, the exhibition’s attendance is just behind China: Through the Looking Glass (2015) and Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (2011), the Met’s fifth and eighth most popular exhibitions respectively, both of which were also extended. All three were curated by Andrew Bolton, now Curator in Change of The Costume Institute. China: Through the Looking Glass attracted 815,992 visitors in total, and Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty drew 661,509.
“Traditionally, the distinction between the haute couture and prêt-à-porter was based on the handmade and the machine-made, but recently this distinction has become increasingly blurred as both disciplines have embraced the practices and techniques of the other,” said Bolton. “Manus x Machina challenges the conventions of the hand/machine dichotomy and proposes a new paradigm germane to our age of technology.”
Manus x Machina features more than 170 examples of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear, dating from the early 1900s to the present. The exhibition addresses the founding of the haute couture in the 19th century, when the sewing machine was invented, and the emergence of a distinction between the hand (manus) and the machine (machina) at the onset of industrialization and mass production. It explores this ongoing dichotomy, in which hand and machine are presented as discordant tools in the creative process, and questions this relationship and the significance of the long-held distinction between haute couture and ready-to-wear.
The Robert Lehman Wing galleries, on the Museum’s first floor and ground level, have been transformed into a building-within-a-building using white scrims. The space houses a series of case studies in which haute couture and ready-to-wear ensembles are decoded to reveal their hand/machine DNA. A 2014 haute couture wedding dress by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel with a 20-foot train occupies a central cocoon, with details of its embroidery projected onto the domed ceiling. The scuba knit ensemble, one of the inspirations for the exhibition, stands as a superlative example of the confluence between the handmade and the machine-made–the pattern on the train was hand-painted with gold metallic pigment, machine-printed with rhinestones, and hand-embroidered with pearls and gemstones.
The exhibition is structured around the traditional métiers of the haute couture. The first floor unfolds as a series of alcoves, examining the petites mains workshops of embroidery, featherwork, and artificial flowers. The ground floor space is arranged as an enfilade, examining pleating, lacework, and leatherwork. A room dedicated to toiles and the ateliers of tailoring (tailleur) and dressmaking (flou)—the traditional division of a maison de couture—anchors the ground-floor gallery. On both floors, traditional hand techniques are discussed alongside innovative technologies such as 3-D printing, computer modeling, bonding and laminating, laser cutting, and ultrasonic welding.
Designers in the exhibition include Cristobal Balenciaga, Boué Soeurs, Sarah Burton (Alexander McQueen), Pierre Cardin, Hussein Chalayan, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli (Valentino), André Courrèges, Giles Deacon, Christian Dior, Alber Elbaz (Lanvin), Mariano Fortuny, John Galliano (Christian Dior, Maison Margiela), Jean Paul Gaultier, Nicolas Ghesquière (Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton), Hubert de Givenchy, Madame Grès, Halston, Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough (Proenza Schouler), Iris van Herpen, Marc Jacobs (Louis Vuitton), Charles James, Christopher Kane, Mary Katrantzou, Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons), Junko Koshino, Karl Lagerfeld (Chanel), Helmut Lang, Louise Boulanger, Mary McFadden, Alexander McQueen (Givenchy), Issey Miyake, Noir Kei Ninomiya (Comme des Garçons), Norman Norell, Jean Patou, Miuccia Prada, Paul Poiret, Gareth Pugh, Paco Rabanne, Noa Raviv, Yves Saint Laurent (Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent), Raf Simons (Christian Dior), Maiko Takeda, Riccardo Tisci (Givenchy), threeASFOUR, Madeleine Vionnet, Catherine Wales, Junya Watanabe (Comme des Garçons), Yohji Yamamoto, and others.
On July 22, MetFridays: Extreme Measures (5–9 pm) will include a number of related activities, including a special Drop-in Drawing session featuring live models wearing clothing inspired by the exhibition, a wearable art-making program on creating extreme hair accessories, and a participatory nail art workshop.
Manus x Machina is organized by Bolton. Shohei Shigematsu, Director of OMA New York, led the exhibition design in collaboration with The Met’s Design Department. The exhibition is made possible by Apple. Additional support is provided by Condé Nast.