Is a handmade garment the ultimate in individuality, or is it elitist? Is a machine-made one progressive or dehumanizing? In the thoughtful new exhibition “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology,” at the Costume Institute at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, curator Andrew Bolton argues that when it comes to haute couture, man and machine have always worked in symbiosis, not opposition.
Using the trades of dressmaking outlined in Diderot’s Enlightenment-era Encyclopédie—embroidery, pleating, featherwork, and more—as guiding categories, the show juxtaposes 120 extraordinary examples of couture and ready-to-wear from the likes of Chanel, Christian Dior, Issey Miyake, and Iris van Herpen, examining each to determine, as Bolton puts it, “their genotype on the hand-machine continuum.” As it turns out, most of the ensembles were made by machine (the latest using new technologies like 3-D printing and ultrasonic welding) and embellished by hand. Bolton hopes the show will prove human and mechanical tools are “equal protagonists in solving design problems, enhancing design practices, and, ultimately, advancing the future of fashion.” May 5 through August 14; 1000 Fifth Ave.; 212-535-7710; metmuseum.org.