The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art is hoping for another Costume Institute hit this year. The museum unveiled its latest fashion exhibition, “Manus x Machina,” this week and celebrated the debut with the annual star-studded Gala on Monday night.
The exhibit, curated by Andrew Bolton, aims to debunk the man-versus-machine myth in fashion. Unlike so many industries, fashion has historically placed a high value (and price tag) on the handmade. Haute Couture is the ultimate in luxury and originality. Technology has represented the masses. “Manus x Machina” explores how fashion is increasingly blurring lines between each to achieve something new.
Footwear News previewed the exhibit Monday: it opens to the public Thursday. Here were a few takeaways.
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1. Go For The Clothes, Not For The Shoes
Major spoiler alert: There are no shoes at “Manus x Machina.” (Well, technically, there is one pair that’s part of a YSL spring/summer 1999 bridal ensemble, but we digress.)
As a shoe publication, we love to see footwear first and foremost, but this show is not about shoes, and frankly, it’s not supposed to be. When you get to the end of the exhibition, you understand that Bolton and his team have carefully focused the lens here on apparel for a reason. He really dives into technique and history in one specific category of the industry. While there were some places there could have been an opportunity for a standout pair (Iris van Herpen’s 3-D printed shoes come to mind as a major artistic and fashion achievement that was missing), the exhibit is intended to be narrow.
2. Process Gets Its Due
Bolton clearly wanted visitors to leave with the understanding that the “technical” has long been a part of the artistic development of fashion. There are mini-videos and explanations throughout highlighting process, showing how couturiers and designers use technology and technique they find from other industries and create themselves to execute a new design. Whether it be a radio-controlled dress by Hussein Chalayan, an Iris van Herpen silicone feather dress or a new pleating techniques from the 1920s, you get a full walk-through on how brands execute tech.
3. The Show Isn’t In The Costume Institute
This time around, Bolton and his team created a “cathedral,” as he calls it, for fashion in the Robert Lehman Galleries. Two floors of fabulous fashion in a minimalist space are all yours to take in the history and intricate designs.
4. ‘Manus x Machina’ Organized By Technique, Not Technology
“Manus x Machina” is not separated by technological innovations. There is no section for 3-D printing. There is no dedicated area for work with plastics, foam or robots. Instead, Bolton shows how innovations have impacted some classic techniques such as lacework, leatherwork, feathers and embroidery and pleating. For example, in lacework you’ll see the handicraft in a 1870s Irish wedding gown near a 2008 Prada printed dress by a scan of a piece of lace.
5. The Show Is Bolton’s First As Head Curator
In January, longtime Costume Institute curator Harold Koma hung up his hat at the Met, and Bolton was tapped to succeed him. The “Manus x Machina” show was the first one for Bolton under his new title.