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Fashion is BIG Business: Manus x Machina


Retail store stocks may be down as of last week, but the taste for high fashion remains resilient.

Retail store stocks may be down as of last week, but the taste for high fashion remains resilient.

Karl Lagerfeld’s (German; now French) Channel wedding ensemble for the autumn/winter 2014-2015 haute couture season.

In the exhibit, Manus Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology

The Metropolitan Museum of Art NYC, NY

May 5 to August 14, 2016

The price tag for attending the opening of the Costume Institutes’ Manus Machina exhibit and associated gala May 2, was $30,000 per person. And that’s not all. Even if you were willing to pay the price it is likely you couldn’t attend. Anna Wintour, a co-chair of the event and the British editor-in-chief of American Vogue, vets who can come. If she doesn’t deem you important enough, no matter what you paid, you won’t be going.

From this extravaganza, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City raised more than $12.5 million last year. Now (after May 5) we can all enjoy the visual feast. The idea of the show is to present man-made (manus) and machine-made (machina) clothing, not as the polar opposite for haute couture and ready to wear, but in modern society as a mixture. The gap between the two is diminishing. For example, what Alexander McQueen did with pony skin, Iris Van Herpen with epoxy and Gareth Pugh with plastic drinking straws (all below and from Manus Machina).

A laser cut white pony skin bonded to black leather, machine-sewn and hand-finished with Mongolian wool. Alexander McQueen (British) ensemble autumn/winter 2012-2013 haute couture.

3-D printed (stereo-lithography) dark orange epoxy by Materialize, hand-sanded and hand-sprayed with a technical transparent resin. Iris Van Herpen (Dutch) Autumn, 2012 haute couture.

Machine-sewn black silk-wool gazar with overlay of black mesh, hand-embroidered with black plastic drinking straws. Gareth Pugh (British) autumn/winter 2015-16, pret-a-porter.

When I compare this exhibit to the Metropolitan’s earlier blockbuster, Through the Looking Glass, I see a more sophisticated less glitzy show. Manus Machinus is based on an 18th century historic book, the Encyclopedia edited by the Frenchman, Denis Diderot and therefore seems more intellectual. Diderot’s work is considered one of the principals of the age of enlightenment. Andrew Bolton, the curator of the exhibit, told Newsweek, “Diderot’s encyclopedia is the first time really that fashion was presented as an art form.” Thus, the exhibit is based on a scholarly idea that came about not in this century, but in the 18th century when the book was written.

The train of the Karl Lagerfeld dress in the first illustration.

All photos by the author.

For More:

Through the Looking Glass—an earlier exhibit at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History at the Jewish Museum New York City until August 7; I saw this exhibit with a tour guide and enjoyed it tremendously. She brought Isaac Mizrahi alive in a way I couldn’t have appreciated without her guidance. Tours are offered daily.

Other Museums in NYC

A Gem of a Museum in NYC: It is MAD

A New York City Jewel: The Hispanic Society of America

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