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The MET’s Manus x Machina

Recently I managed to fit in a visit to the latest exhibition at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If you ever wondered how your clothes are made and how they will be made in the future this exhibition answers those questions.


The exhibition opens with a neon white sign greeting that making you feel as if your entering a futuristic movie. The stark white walls allows the visitors to focus on every intricate detail on the Haute Couture and Ready to Wear garments. The circular halls are divided by “Metiers” or trades of dressmaking. These trades were organized in the “Encylopedia of Sciences Arts and Crafts.” Written by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert they sought to show the skill and complexity of making clothes. They wanted to show people that fashion was an art form. The garments on display are made by hand (manus) or machine (machina) or a combination of the two.

Pages within the encyclopedia.

Technology has always helped push the boundaries of what’s possible with fashion. The sewing machine itself was a form of new technology when it was introduced.The skill of the Coutier paired with technology both then and now create new and innovative ways of creating and wearing garments. With the rapid growth of technology within the fashion industry more designers are finding ways to mesh technology and the skill of sewing together. Designers who use both technology and traditional sewing have the task of not losing the art of handsewing while using technology to enhance the garment. Designs that are purely made by machine have to come across as wearable and at the very least fashionable.


Kharl Largerfeld for Chanel. Wedding ensemble Autunm Winter 14/15. Scuba knit synthetic material hand molded, machine sewn & hand embroideredand  finished. Train machine sewn and hand finished. Heat transfer of rhinestones and gold metallic pigment painting done by hand.

Metier: Embrodariary,needlework that adorns woven or knits.

Technology: New materials like synthetics that make a diverse range of embellishments possible and thermoplastic film which allows heat transfer elements to the textile without sewing.

Dior by Yves Saint Laurent. L’elephant Blanc evening dress, spring/summer 1958 Haute Couture. Machine sewn, glitter applied by hand.

Givenchy evening dress 1963 Haute Couture. Hand sewn and hand embroidered with glass beads, tinsel and coral.

All three:  Louis Vuitton Co. by Nicolas Ghesquiere spring/summer 2016 Pret-a-porter.Machine sewn cotton poplin. Hand appliquéd overlay of ivory silk synthetic net, bonded with laser-cut silver mettallic strips. Hand airbrushed with dark brown, blue and gray pigment. Hand grommeted with copper metal.

Saint Laurent spring/summer 1983 Haute Couture. Seams sewn by machine and hand. Hand embroidered.

Metier: Parurier Floral ( Artificial flowers) Made with flour or gelatin for easy formation. Petals are cut in layers to create many quickly. Technology: Metal punching petals are done by machine. They are dyed in alcohol and pigment. The solution is mixed by hand and the flowers are dipped and dried several times to attain the right color.The petals are shaped on pillows and anchored together by hand with thread.

From left to right: (1)Dior:Autumn/Winter 2012-13 Haute Couture. Machine sewn white silk organdy, hand embroidered blue silk net with blue and yellow sequins, clear bugle beads and crystals. Machine sewn ivory silk crepe, tulle and chiffon and hand embroidered with gold metal thread, pearls, pink crystal and hand cut petals.

(2&3)Prada :Autumn/Winter 2015 pret-a-porter. Machine sewn with synthetic jersey, self fabric machine and hand sewn appliqué. Hand embroidered with clear glass beads and blue, clear and red set crystals.

(4)Louis Vuttion Co.: Spring/ Summer 2012 Dress Pret-a-porter. Machine sewn, hand embroidered with laser cut white and blue plastic flowers. Grommeted with clear crystals and silver metal studs.Slip machine sewn white polyester organdy with machine made broderie anglaise flowers. Hand finished.

Chanel wedding ensemble. Autumn/Winter 2005-06 Haute Couture. Made by hand with artificial flowers, white ostrich feathers and twenty-five hundred white flowers and sequins. Completion took seven- hundred hours or around 30 days to make. That means it took almost a whole month to complete one dress!

Hussein Chalayn “Kaikoku floating dress”. Autumn-Winter 2011-12 Pret-a’-porter.Cast fiberglass, gold pigment, sworovski crystals, pearlized “pollens”. It has a rear entry through which a person would step into the dress through motorized hinges. The hinges are radio controlled trough a headset. Click here to see how the dress works. Floating dress

Metier: Dentellere (lacework)       Lacework originally involved many artisans each taking time on a specific stage of its production. Technology: In 1809 the Bobbinet machine was created by John Heathcoat. The machine created the netted ground that artisans hand embroidered. In 1813 John Leavers created a Jacquard mechanism that created both the net and pattern for lace. Later on both the Schiffli embroidery machine and the Raschel knitting machine made the manufacturing of lace quicker and easier. Today it is mainly made by machine for both couture and pret-a-porter expect for some designers who still use hand made lace.

Givenchy: Autumn/Winter 2010-11. Haute Couture. Lace is machine made. The silk tulle is machine sewn. Tulle and lace attached and braided by hand.

Iris van Herpen: Autumn/Winter 2011-12. 3D printed white polyamide. It took two months and a week to finish.

Iris van Herpen. 3-D lacework dress. Spring/Summer 15 Pret-a-Porter. Machine sewn black microfiber, cotton and twill. Hand embroidered clear thermoformed laser cut acrylic. Hand joined with silicone connectors.

Toile: Canvas and the prototype garment. Usually made of cotton muslin. It’s simple to work with making it easy for ready to wear and allows refinements in fit. Which is the most important part of Haute Couture.

Metier:Tailleur and Flou(Tailoring and dress making). Tailleur Flou: Divison that specializes in the cutting of suits and structured garments. Atelier Flou:Divison that specializes in draping and soft construction.


Maison Margiela: Spring/Summer 15. Haute Couture. Machine sewn and hand painted linen. Hand sewn and pinned toy cars.


Hussein Chalayn: remote control dress 2005 Spring/Summer. Pret-a’-porter fiberglass with silver metal, under skirt machine sewn and hand gathered tufts of synthetic tool. Click on the link  and watch from 1:53- 2:53 to see how the dress works.Remote control dress

Metier:Plisse’ I-Pleating Invented in 1760. Technology:The invention of synthetic textiles allowed pleating to set permanently when they would originally have to be refolded by hand.


Dior: Spring summer 15. Hand pleated, embroidered and finished. Machine sewn.


Miyake design studio. Flying saucer dress. Machine pleated and sewn polyester.The same dress in different stages.

Metier:Plisse II, No cutting and seaming involved. Shape and fit is done by hand.


Madame Gres 1987. Haute Couture:machine sewn, hand stitched and applied pleats and bindings.

Metier:Maroquinerie(Leatherwork) The technique was invented in the 19th century. Technology:The use of chromium salts allowed leather to become soft and usable as a textile. In the 1920’s stamping of leather was invented to create animal like skin with leather such as snake skin. PVC (synthetic leather)was also invented at the time.


Valentino S.P.A. spring/summer 16 pret-a-porter. Lace and tulle is machine sewn.  Hand sewn and riveted with strips of leather.


Both Alexander McQueen. Ensemble Atumn/Winter 2012-13 Pret-a’-Porter. Laser cut white poney skin bonded to black leather. Machine sewn and hand finished with Mongolian wool.

Metier: Plumasserie (Featherwork)

Derived from the Latin word Plumarius it describes both a featherworker and embroiderer. Technology The feathers must be cleaned in soap and water, dried and sorted. The feathers are then bleached through exposure to sulphur dioxide fumes. Feathers can be dyed to change their natural hue. Shaping of the feathers can be done through trimming, scorching and reduction. The building up of feathers is commonly done by hand with individual barbs of feather that are knotted, glued,threaded or wrapped with wire. Finally the curling process brings the all the feathers together.

Saint Laurent: Evening ensemble. Autunm/Winter 2000-01, Haute Couture. Dress machine sewn, hand finished black lacquered silk, panne velvet, cape: black silk organza, hand embroidered by Lemarie’ with black iridescent rooster feathers.


Alexander McQueen: Autumn/Winter 2014-15 Haute Couture. Cape machine sewn, hand embroidered with black ostrich feathers and purple, black, gray, green goose feathers. Machine sewn, hand finished with black silk chiffon, hand embroidered.


Maliki Tokeda:  “Atomospheric Reentry” headpiece and bolero 2013. Hand cut transparent green, blue, purple ombré acetate fringe. Hand woven with machine cut acrylic squares, hand assembled with silver metal jump rings.

One that doesn’t understand or appreciate how clothes are designed and made might say fashion is not an art. On the contrary it is, the skill and knowledge of techniques needed to create a garment is vast. It is an art form like that of painting, sculpting or music. Skills and techniques need to be learned and practiced so that the art can enjoyed. The only difference between Fashion and other art forms is that it is wearable.

The exhibition is open util August 14th at the 1000 5th ave location NY,NY.

T.S.

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