[dropcap size=small]T[/dropcap]he highest form of fashion, haute couture, is generally associated with exquisite handcraft, while mass-produced items are typically linked to mechanical production. But is this always so?

This assumption is challenged by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute spring exhibition, “Manus X Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology”. (The Latin words “manus” and “machina” mean “hand” and “machine”, respectively.)

Consider this dramatic wedding ensemble, a design from Chanel’s Autumn/Winter 2014/15 haute couture collection.

Lagerfeld Wedding

While the pattern on its 6m-long train was hand-painted and hand-embroidered with pearls and gemstones, this Karl Lagerfeld creation also entailed several modern technologies. Its Baroque-style print was sketched by hand, then digitally manipulated to create a pixelated effect. The dress itself is made from scuba knit, a synthetic material typically made from polyester and elastane.

Aside from some 170 exhibits including haute couture, ready-towear and some truly far-out pieces (see sidebar), Manus X Machina also explores garment-making techniques, both old and new. Classic haute-couture techniques like artificial flower-crafting and featherwork are highlighted alongside modern technologies such as 3-D printing, laser-cutting and computer-modelling. It’s enough to make sartorial Luddites rethink their rage against the machine.

“Manus X Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” runs till Aug 14 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.


The fashion-forward works of two avant-garde designers.

#01 HUSSEIN CHALAYAN To wear Chalayan’s fibreglass Kaikoku Floating Dress, one has to step into it through a rear-access panel, which is remote-controlled. The dress is covered with spring-loaded crystal “pollen” that can also be released by remote control.


#02 IRIS VAN HERPEN Not an outfit for the faint of heart, this feathery statement piece from the Dutch designer’s Wilderness Embodied collection is accented by silicone-coated bird skulls. The rest of the dress is made from hand-stitched strips of laser-cut silicone feathers and cotton twill.

Met Museum Dress 2