The MET’s exhibition ‘Manus X Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology’ (May – September 2016) was the most relevant exhibition regarding fashion creativity, and what is happening in our industry right now. Its aim was to show how, since the creation of the sewing machine, the binary opposition between hand-sewn and machine-sewn was created. But at the same time, the exhibition emphasized the juxtaposition between the hand and the machine.
Karl Lagerfeld’s haute couture wedding dress creation (2014) for pregnant Ashleigh Good is a case in point. The dress was the first thing a visitor saw, displayed beautifully in a domed room, as if the work of deities. A closer look revealed that it was made of scuba knit and its train hand-painted with gold, machine-printed with rhinestones, and finished by hand-embroidered pearls and gemstones. The perfect marriage (excuse the pun) between man’s creativity and handiwork, and a machine’s precision. Before you enter the exhibition, the curators have answered the question for you; there is no either or… Coexistence is possible and preferred.
Walking through the beautifully curated rooms I was taking in the unique experience of being up close and personal with haute couture fashion. But I wasn’t completely lost in the beauty; I found myself keep on asking certain questions. All the exhibits were haute couture pieces painstakingly made. They were creations that took time not only to make but also to conceive. Then it became obvious to me. Creativity needs time and what is lacking right now is exactly that. Everything is faster, instant. See-now-buy-now, until the next trend is used and discarded. Do we allow enough time for creatives to create? Think about the next best thing? Does our industry really values talent and craft less than growth, marketing success and social media exposure?
Which made me question further what is the relationship between haute couture and ready-to-wear (Prêt-à-Porter). Of course there are differences between the two, but if the former still has the benefit of time, and the latter the disadvantage of instant gratification, doesn’t the gap between fashion as an art, and fashion as a consumption object grow bigger? Does the lack of time make ready-to-wear and high-street fashion less valuable, throw-away-prone?
In this first post I want to share with you the amazing creations made of sequins, lace and flower decorations, sometimes all three put together on one garment…
From Left to Right (L-R) House of Chanel (designed by Coco Chanel) Haute Couture 1935: hand-sewn silk crepe chiffon, hand embroidered with gelatin sequins. Maison Margiela (designed by Martin Margiela) Prêt-à-Porter SS 1996: machine-sewn synthetic knit, digitally printed with black trompe l’oeil sequin motifs. Louis Vuitton (designed by Nicolas Ghesquiere) Prêt-à-Porter AW 2016-17: machine-sewn white silk twill, embroidered with clear and white plastic sequins, overprinted with black pigment.
Saint Laurent (designed by Yves Saint Laurent) Haute Couture SS 1983: machine-sewn silk crepe dress, seams finished by hand, hand-embroidered with beads and gelatin paillettes. It took 1500 hours to complete!
Prada (designed by Miuccia Prada) Prêt-à-Porter AW2011-12: machine-sewn silk organdy, hand-embroidered with opalescent plastic paillettes and clear beads.
House of Chanel suits from different eras (designers Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld) 1963-68, AW 2015-16. Details of black and white suits: 3D-printed (selective laser sintering) polyamide overlay by Materialise, with hand-stitched beads, pearls and crystals.
House of Dior (designed by Raf Simons) Haute Couture AW 2012-13: machine-sewn silk organdy and silk net and silk crepe, tulle and chiffon, hand-embroidered with sequins, beads, crystals, and hand-cut flower petals.
Attributed to Callot Soeurs Haute Couture 1920: hand and machine-sewn silk chiffon with hand-sewn inserts of antique bobbin-made tape lace with needle-made fillings, hand-applied handmade gold braided passementerie.
(L-R) Marios Schwab Prêt-à-Porter AW 2008-09: machine-sewn digitally printed georgette silk with overlay of laser-cut silk grosgrain. Prada (designed by Miuccia Prada) Prêt-à-Porter AW 2008-09: machine-sewn silk gabardine, digital-inkjet-printed in brown and black with digitally scanned and rendered trompe l’oeil guipure lace motif.
(L-R) Dresses by Prada (designed by Miuccia Prada) Prêt-à-Porter AW 2008-09: machine-sewn cotton and metallic guipure lace with hand-applique self-fabric flowers. Irish wedding dress Ca. 1870: hand-crocheted cotton lace with 3D motifs including roses, lilies of the valley, morning glories, buds and berries, and flat and folded leaves and ferns.
(L-R) Christopher Kane Prêt-à-Porter SS 2013: machine-sewn synthetic organza shirt worn with machine-sewn silk organdy skirt, made of hand-stitched overlay of 3D printed polyurethane bows. Simone Rocha Prêt-à-Porter SS 2014: machine-sewn and machine-embroidered nylon and polyester, laminated with polyurethane foil.
House of Chanel (designed by Karl Lagerfeld) Haute Couture AW 2005-06: hand-made wedding dress made of signature camellias. Dress is made of 2500 flowers, each one taking 90 minutes to produce. Ostrich feathers finish the look.
Boue Soeurs Haute Couture 1928: hand-sewn silk tulle, machine-embroidered with silver cord with machine-picot edging, and sewn-on artificial flowers.
Both dresses by Alexander McQueen Prêt-à-Porter SS 2009: machine-sewn silk duchesse with hand-embroidered enamelled-metal flower petals.
Valentino S.P.A. (designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli) Prêt-à-Porter SS 2014: Coat made with machine and hand-sewn silk organdy, hand-embroidered with leather and silk artificial flowers and feathers.
House of Dior (designed by Raf Simons) Haute Couture SS 2014: Machine and hand-sewn silk mousseline. Underdress embroidered with plastic crystals, glass seed beads, and flower-shaped paillettes. Overdress embroidered with rayon florets, glass seed beads, iridescent flower-shaped paillettes. Cutwork done by hand and finished by machine.
(L-R) Floral dresses by Prada (designed by Miuccia Prada) Prêt-à-Porter AW 2016-17: machine-sewn silk organza with machine-embroidered cotton floral motifs superimposed with hand-embroidered plastic paillettes, rhinestones and beads. Christopher Kane Prêt-à-Porter SS 2014: jumper made of cashmere with nylon net applique, and embroidered with silk-synthetic thread and opalescent sequins. Skirt machine-sewn silk-synthetic organza, laser-cut polyester voile applique and machine and hand-embroidered with silk-synthetic thread. House of Dior (designed by Christian Dior) Haute Couture SS 1952: machine-sewn, hand-finished silk organza, hand-embroidered with artificial floss flowers, hand-painted cotton, silk twist.
House of Dior (designed by Raf Simons) Prêt-à-Porter AW 2013-14: machine-sewn silk taffeta with overlay cotton-synthetic mesh, hand-embroidered with leather artificial flowers and beads.
Footnote: Apologies for the quality of some of the photos. I was using my iPhone but the exhibition lighting was impossible. A little disappointing for an exhibition put together with the help of Apple.