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Manus x Machina

Manus x Machina

Every year I do myself a solid. Overlooking my credit card bills, I take days off work, and drag myself solo to New York in the Spring for four days. I have been doing this for the past 6 years, and I'm yet to ask anybody else to join me. I just want to do it alone, just gallivant however I want all day, and go back to the same store twice in one day if I feel like it (I am the loser who comes to your store twice in a day.) I make myself walk from the Met on 83rd Street to the Union Square Park on 14th, and prove to myself I still have calves of steel (The other 98% of my body is fat and nerves.) I eat banana pudding after eating a cupcake at Magnolia Bakery, despite knowing it will make me feel sick. I cry from exhaustion while watching pigeons wet their butts by the fountain across Radio City.

I need time off to do important personal stuff like that. 

I also try to justify my New York trips by scheduling them while the Met Costume Institute has its annual exhibit. This is mostly because I am a cultured person who is very much interested in museum exhibits (I left the British Museum after two hours because "I was bored".) Plus, it is simply my job to know about these things (Nobody would pay me if I tried to write this trip off as a work expense.)

In reality, I enjoy seeing these fashion exhibits so much that it gives me a headache from excitement. I didn't even know I could get this excited within the confines of a museum before I saw the Alexander McQueen exhibit in 2011 - and after having waited in line for 40 minutes when the day came. Yet my reaction to the amazing clothes and the ambiance of that exhibit was so visceral that I still get a small rush of adrenaline when I think about it. Too bad I didn't have a smartphone at the time to take photos - that is, if I could have stopped myself from walking from room to room like I was in a trance, finally getting what this "fashion as art" business was about. (Before Alex showed me the way, I was touch and go on that matter.)  

Anyway. This year, I made my way back to the Met for the Costume Institute exhibit. The theme (in line with the annual Met Gala) was "Manus x Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology", or in plain English "Hand vs Machine". I suspected it to be a concept similar to Alien vs Predator, but probably not 100%.

It was instead an examination of the distinction between haute couture and pert-a-porter (ready to wear), and basically asking “I mean, is one reeeeally more important than the other?” "Ready to Wear", or "Pret-a-Porter" is what us mortals usually buy, and fast fashion which all of us mortals buy is a kind of it. It makes a huge variety and volume of clothing very fast, and also makes a ton of money. For example, Amancio Ortega, the owner of the Inditex group which owns Zara, Massimo Dutti, Pull and Bear, Bershka, Oysho, Stradivarius, and some more for fun and giggles is the second richest person in the world (For real. Look it up on Forbes.) Ready to wear, in the end, is considered to be the garment technology of tomorrow, especially considering how profitable fast fashion businesses are, and how 99% of people cannot afford haute couture. 

BUT. Haute couture makes the most beautiful pieces of clothing one can ever put on her body - in one's best blissfully drugged out dreams. The artistry (pleating, embroidery, featherwork, lacemaking, leatherwork, artificial flowers, etc.) done by hand on a piece of haute couture is spectacular. 

Yet given the technological advancements such as 3-D printing, and the dominance of machine driven pret-a-porter, the central question of the exhibit was whether it is possible for pret-a-porter and haute couture to exist together in the modern world. In response, the exhibit made the statement that both can, and should exist to make it possible for designers to create whatever they envisioned. Expert manual labor/artisanship and machinery complete one another to help designers create exactly what they want. As the exhibit put it, there should be a mutual exchange between hand and the machine to “solve design problems, enhance design practices, advancing fashion.” All in all, the clothes mattered. And if Christopher Bailey wants to create a custom gown which requires both machinery and manual labor, both will be used to make that design come to life, period. Neither one is sufficient by itself to create everything the most imaginative designers want to bring to life. In rom-com language, they complete each other to create the future of fashion. In fact, the statement piece of the exhibit is a mixture of hand and machinery, a Chanel wedding gown that was made of hand molded scuba knit, which was then machine sewn and hand embroidered with glass, crystals, pearls, gemstones, and painted with gold metallic pigment. The motif of the train was hand drawn by Lagerfeld, then digitally manipulated to create a baroque pattern. (I am exhausted just talking about it.)

I personally LOVED the shiny, glittery gowns. Those two Dior gowns with scalloped layers of beading in the first photo below? Those were my absolute favorites and I apparently took 30 photos of them while elbowing people out of my way. (Yves St Laurent's featherwork dresses on the 6th photo were also amazing, but I am not sure I could pull those off.) And the flower gown by Chanel below was made up of 2500 handmade flowers each of which took 90 minutes to make - roughly equivalent to the time I spent on Facebook this year. 

You know the saying "100 maidens went blind making this dress"? Well, the flower gown by Chanel above was made up of 2500 handmade flowers - *each* of which took 90 minutes to make. All in all, I suspect the time spent making this gown is roughly equivalent to the time I spent on Facebook this year. Because we all have our contributions to humanity. 

What was also very neat was the way 3-D printing was used. The Chanel suits below especially surprised me in that I wouldn't normally think of a classic Chanel suit as a high-tech marvel. The cream colored suit on far left is the original version in traditional wool. On the other hand, the ones next to it are made up of 3-D print nettings which are then sewn together.


After hearing this I also started respecting 3-D printers more. Give it to my completely uncurious mind but it seemed to me until then that they always printed such useless stuff. 

And there is Iris Van Herpen pieces. The Dutch designer was the creator of some of the most interesting pieces that used 3-D printing, machine sewing, and handmade detailing all in one garment. And they looked scary and attractive at the same time. 

The couture garments made by American design house Threeasfour with 3-D printing to create lacework and pleating were also, in scientific terms, bananas. People create this with technology, and I use it post photos of my cats licking their butts.

If you want to see more of the garments, there is a book on the exhibit with lots of gorgeous photos that you can find on bookstores. As always, The Met Costume Institute has a page on its exhibition. I apparently was not very interested in lace and pleating because I realized I didn't take photos of those sections (sorry Miyake.) I am thinking it might be because my family made me wear a lot of pleated skirts and dresses when I was a kid when all I wanted to wear were shiny spandex tights and fringe tops with Mickey Mouse prints, but who knows.  

China: Through The Looking Glass

China: Through The Looking Glass