In this series, Impact writer, Claire Elizabeth Seah, will consider the nature of fashion in relation to other subjects. In this article, she examines the technical aspect of fashion and hypothesizes on the changes that fashion will undergo in our increasingly tech-savvy world.
“The use of machines in high fashion is becoming more blatant, but as Bolton’s story reveals, machine’s role in fashion is old news”
The Met Gala has only just concluded, which means the Manus x Machina exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute is now open to the public. As the title of the exhibition suggests, this year, the focus is on the relationship between hand and machine within the context of fashion. Perhaps for most, ‘handmade’ is synonymous to luxury and uniqueness while machine-made signifies a sense of necessity and commonality. However, this is far from the truth. Andrew Bolton, the incredible curator of the exhibit (and star of the documentary The First Monday in May) recounted that upon being given the privilege of inspecting Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian dress, he found that the majority of the dress was machine-sewn as opposed to being hand-sewn. The use of machines in high fashion is becoming more blatant, but as Bolton’s story reveals, machine’s role in fashion is old news.
Bolton attributes YSL’s Mondrian dress to being half of the inspiration behind the exhibit. The other half comes from Karl Lagerfield’s 2015 A/W Haute Couture wedding gown for Chanel. This piece perfectly encapsulates how man and machine converge in fashion today. The gown itself seems to be barely technical, stemming mostly from the work of human hands. The train, on the other hand, was first sketched by hand then put through a computer software to produce a highly pixelated look. The pattern was then hand-painted before being printed with rhinestones onto the fabric. The final embellishments of pearls and gems were embroidered by hand. The result is the stunning baroque train that contrasts with the elegant gown.
“Fashion is an art, but art too, is rooted in technique”
Usually, the technical aspects of fashion are not always as clear-cut as many of the pieces on display at the exhibition. Recently, houses like Dior and Chanel have released making-of videos that chronicle the production of designs that are found in their haute couture collections. Other than providing some incredible cinematography, these videos remind one of the amounts of technical skill required to bring sketches on paper or a vision in someone’s mind, to life. Crucial to this production process are the petite mains, the technicians who make up the ateliers. It is within the walls of the ateliers where the magic really happens. Being a petite main is arduous, stressful work. They often work till the morning of the actual show to ensure that fully realised works of art can be viewed on the catwalk. Unfortunately, they form a dying breed, with fewer and fewer people ready to devote their lives to perfecting their craft. With the reduction of availability or accessibility to acquiring technical skill from human hands, it is no wonder that designers have been more inclined to explore machinery.
Fashion is an art, but art too, is rooted in technique. Whether this comes from a designer, a petite main, a computer or a 3-D printer, one thing that weaves these elements into a single design is the pursuit for creativity. The question of what makes a great artist is one that I will not attempt to answer; but one thing is for certain, anyone who falls into this category is technically proficient in his or her trade. As technology provides more prospects for innovation, artists, especially those in the fashion world, will increasingly be inclined to consider and embrace the technical options they are offered from machines. It seems Manus x Machina will be a relationship in fashion that will continue to hold strong for the foreseeable future.
Claire Elizabeth Seah
Image Credits: metmuseum via Instagram, Nationaal Archief via Wikipedia Commons