Fashion and tech united under one roof at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Monday as press and Met Gala attendees got their first look at the Costume Institute’s latest exhibit, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology.
The exhibition, curated by Andrew Bolton, threads the connection between the handcrafted (manus) and machine-made (machina), finding that the two techniques are equal protagonists in the world of haute couture and prêt-à-porter.
“Technology and craft are not at odds,” said Jonathan Ive, chief design officer for Apple, speaking at the press preview. “Much like beauty and utility, they go hand-in-hand. All the more powerful in combination.” The tech giant sponsored the show, alongside publishing house Condé Nast.
The exhibition is staged inside a translucent “cathedral” designed by Dutch architecture firm OMA. The centerpiece at the “altar” of the cathedral is Karl Lagerfeld’s glistening Wedding Ensemble—a hand-molded, machine-sewn, and hand-finished dress. “Perhaps it used to matter if a dress was handmade or machine-made, at least in the haute couture, but now things are completely different…” Karl Lagerfeld said in a release. “The digital revolution has changed the world.”
Over 170 costumes are featured in the exhibition. They include Hussein Chalayan’s “Kaikoku” Floating Dress, made from cast fiberglass; Iris van Herpen’s 3D-printed dress; and Yves Saint Laurent’s “L’Elephant Blanc” trapeze-line evening dress for Dior.
The Met Gala revealed equal creativity as celebrities draped themselves in couture gowns embedded with smart technology. Model Karolina Kurkova wore a “cognitive” gown that responded to the emotional content of tweets tagged #MetGala and #CognitiveDress by lighting up in different colors. The dress was a partnership between the British fashion designer Marchesa and IBM’s cognitive technology arm, Watson.
American fashion designer Zac Posen created an illuminating ball gown especially for actress Claire Danes, which featured fiber optics woven into organza material. The Cinderella-esque dress may have looked ordinary along the red carpet in the day, but it lit up when the lights were out.
In our Future 100 report, we noted that as fashion and tech become more integrated, the merger is redefining “wearable technology,” from Manus x Machina to Google and Levi’s collaborating on connected fabrication. Technology is also becoming integrated with luxury more broadly—Angela Ahrendts, senior vice president of retail and online stores at Apple (and former Burberry CEO), has been elevating the store experience of Apple flagships to that of a luxury boutique.