Is fashion art? It certainly can be — but most people wouldn't argue that the mechanisation of production, the fast-fashion-ification of the creative process, and the introduction of high-tech have made the act of making clothes more of a business than an art. In short: Technology and fashion belong in a retail space, not a museum. But The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute is challenging that notion, and doing a fine job of it, too.
At a press conference this morning for the new Manus ex Machina exhibit, Apple's chief design officer, Jonathan Ive, spoke about technology's place within fashion: "Once even the simple metal needle challenged the conventional thinking of the time. It is the amount of care invested, whether machine-made or handmade that transforms ordinary modest materials into something extraordinary." After all, without the care of an atelier premiere, a swath of fabric would just be a sheet; without the expertise of a digital sculptor, a block of nylon polyamide would just be a paperweight. Though our tools are different these days — thanks to technology — the products designers create are just as impressive today as they were centuries ago.
While the museum focuses solely on techniques like leatherwork, pleating, and embroidery that span centuries (at the omission of newer fashion categories like wearables, light technology, and performance materials — and indie designers who are pioneers in the space like Chromat and Anrealage), the exhibit provides plenty of opportunities for you to go slack-jawed at the workmanship, via both man and machine, that go into a single garment. The fashion is incredible to see up close, but it's the accompanying video that's shown alongside each look that really turns this exhibit into something that'll give your brain fireworks. From a dress whose rubber spikes were shaped by magnets to the mesmerising process by which the world's most famous pleats are created, these are man-meets-machine making-of videos that need to be seen.