Technology, Fashion and Artisanship Meet at the Met

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art opened its Costume Institute’s spring exhibition to the public on May 5, 2016. The exhibit, titled Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, explores the intersection of hand and machine-made fashion through history and into the future.

At SquareTrade, we’re all pretty fascinated by the different ways technology is used across diverse industries. So we decided to find out more about the exhibition—but first, some quick vocab:

Couture or Haute Couture (pronounced hOTE cooTOR): This is a custom-made clothing item. Couture is often tossed around at red-carpet events, so you’ll hear it in a sentence like “Important Celebrity is wearing Chanel couture.” It just means that Chanel custom designed the garment for that particular celebrity.

Prêt-à-Porter (pronounced PRET ah poortay): This is the French phrase for “ready to wear.” It means that the clothing item was produced in a larger batch, not custom made, so it comes in a variety of sizes. This type of fashion is more commonly associated with machine production.

Manus (pronounced MANis): Latin for hand, a reference to handmade fashions.

Machina (pronounced MAHkeenah): Latin for machine, a reference to machine-made fashions.

Brownie points: You may have heard the phrase “Deus ex machina” (pronounced DAYus ex MAHkeenah) before—Manus x Machina cleverly references this Latin phrase in its title. Deus ex machina literally translates to “God from the machine.” It’s a popular plot device used to save a character when all seems lost.

Onward!

The centerpiece of Manus x Machina is a Chanel haute couture bridal gown that the label’s Head Designer and Creative Director, Karl Lagerfeld, created using a mix of hand-drawn design and computer-enhanced accent work. Most notably, the gown’s train features baroque embroidery that was first sketched by hand, then digitally made to look pixelated and, finally, hand sewn. See a detailed rendering below:

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The exhibition includes nearly 200 dresses and ensembles representing the six hallmark styles of dressmaking: embroidery, featherwork, flowers, pleating, lace and leatherwork. It examines the respective methods of handcrafted and machine-made clothing to achieve these styles, which were initially described in a French book about art, science and craft called Encyclopédie. Relevant passages from Encyclopédie are featured throughout the space.

Through its curation and commentary, the exhibition argues that handcrafted and machine-crafted arts are not at odds, but that they combine to make modern fashion design stronger and more adventurous.

It also shows that the lines between haute couture and prêt-à-porter are increasingly blurred by technology’s influence: From digital design capabilities to automated production to new innovations like 3-D printing, technology has asserted itself in the fashion industry and proven that it’s here to stay.

Beyond the clothing pieces included, the exhibition is worth a visit for the architectural design of the space. Global architectural firm OMA constructed what the Met’s director calls “a building-within-a-building, a cathedral of sorts” to showcase Manus x Machina.

If you’re in New York or able to visit before the exhibition closes August 14, snap a photo and tweet at or tag @SquareTrade on Instagram!

Hannah Ashe