Manus × Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology Vol.2

All the questions, asked in the previous post, were answered after I finished walking through the exhibition. Whether you are a fashion lover or not, you cannot but marvel at human creativity and ingenuity. Putting the hand-made against the machine-made is as if you are trying to put mind against body. How can the body exist independently of its mind’s commands? There is continuity and interconnectivity. And there always will be. And the curators of the exhibition expertly show off this continuity by displaying all garments, whatever their age and technological achievement, on the same old-fashion mannequins as if they are still in the designer’s atelier.

All dresses House of Dior (designed by Raf Simons) Haute Couture SS 2015: hand-pleated, machine-sewn silk organdy, hand-embroidered with silk grosgrain ribbon.But this continuity can be disrupted, and it is being disrupted already. Take away a key ingredient in the process of conceptualisation-experimentation-creation, and disruption becomes disorientating. Take away the ingredient of time and the process becomes a case of chasing your own tail.

Alber Elbaz at a lecture associated with the exhibition, very eloquently sums-up why ‘Manus x Machina’ is important. He said “It was almost an exhibition that was done for designers and with designers’ work. It was about workmanship, about know-how, about time, and the one thing that impressed me the most was that it was almost silent. . . .” (from vogue.com). But how does this kind of silence go with our obsession of over-exposure, and shouting about everything we do from the rooftop?

Maison Margiela (designed by John Galliano) Haute Couture SS 2015: machine-sewn and hand-painted linen, hand-sewn and hand-pinned black lacquered toy cars.

In this post, we are looking at technologically brilliant garments; where technology marries well with traditional ways of dress-making. These garments could be science fiction but are truly wearable. We look at avant-garde pieces made of resin and plastic. But, we also look at techniques such as pleating and plisse making. These techniques were considered ground-breaking, almost science fiction when they were first used, but now can be found everywhere…

All dresses Louis Vuitton Co. (designed by Nicolas Chesquiere) Prêt-à-Porter SS 2016: machine-sewn cotton poplin, hand-appliqued overlay of silk-synthetic net, bonded with laser-cut metallic strips, hand-airbrushed with coloured pigment, hand-grommeted with copper metal.

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Manus × Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology Vol.1

 

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.

House of Chanel (designed by Karl Lagerfeld) Haute Couture AW 2014-15

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?

Prada (designed by Miuccia Prada) Prêt-à-Porter AW 2015-16: synthetic jersey-gazar machine and hand-sewn applique, hand-embroidered.

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…

 

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Tori Amos: 25 years of creativity

I am a huge fan, it is not a secret. I have been since I was 15 when I first listened to her music. It was like a slap to the face, a burst of my middle-class safe upbringing bubble. It was right then that I first realised the world was a much bigger place, full of possibilities. It was 1994 and I was listening to a cassette version of her 1994 album “Under the Pink”. I do not remember how I discovered it, but I never looked back. I have bought all her albums, and tried to go to all her London gigs since.

Artwork from the album "Night of Hunters" (2011): courtesy of the artist

Exactly 25 years ago, today, her debut album “Little Earthquakes” was released in the UK. 14 albums later she remains the same. A fighter, an artist who refuses to compromise, still remaining the most original female artist of all time. She is still fighting for women’s rights, against violence, and religious oppression.

This post is about her work, the inspirational imagery that accompanied her musical landscapes (a few images used in this post), and the issues she addressed throughout her career. It is nice to think that artists like her could inspire creativity in principles such as fashion designing. Where have the days of muses inspiring fashion designers gone? Being inspired by how people choose to wear and combine their clothes on the street is great, but I get the feeling that fashion is at a “what-came-first-the-egg-or-the-chicken” crossroads. Time to look elsewhere for inspiration.

From the greatest hits album "Gold Dust" (2012): courtesy of the artist

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5 changes that shaped 2016

2016 will probably go down as the year when voters rejected a liberal approach to life. The economic recession of previous years that brought us austerity, and the fully pledged globalisation in industry and production, attacked the least prepared segments of society. It was another “industrial revolution”, this time a more silent one. Workers lost their jobs not only to technology but to other workers thousands of miles away. This time the state could not assist; austerity wouldn’t allow it…

Fashion industry wasn’t unaffected by these global socioeconomic changes. The last few years, the industry has been going through a major paradigm shift; the latter’s results becoming more apparent this year. Years of wrong investment decisions and knee-jerk reactions have slowly shaped the industry to what it is today. Either struggling to react to current needs, a great example of this are the ailing chain retailers bleeding customers, or an industry that has ripped up the rulebook in its need to survive. The brand that used to be the definitions of sexiness and turned into a geeky mash-up of lace dresses with snake appliques comes to mind.

But let me be more specific and consider 5 key changes and trends we have seen this year. 5 new directions that have defined the year but will also shape the industry; an insight into things to come.

Demna Gvasalia and the Vetements design collective

Georgian born Demna Gvasalia together with his brother Guram and 5 more friends (all met during their time at Maison Margiela), created the design collective Vetements. And in a couple of years have become the hottest and most coveted brand. Their concept is simple but extremely efficient and uncommon in the fashion world. Design for them is a democratic process of conversation. Every member of the collective, whatever their background, has an input.

Vetements show

Breaking free from the hegemony of trend, their clothes address what they believe people will like to wear. They are inspired by urban cultures and subcultures, online influences, and streetwise youth to offer season-less fashion for cool individuals. They aim at people in-touch with reality, instead of selling a fantasy. Selling a make belief has been the go-to approach for most luxury brands so far, an approach interrupted by the rise of the social media.

Vetements’ relationship with social media on the other hand, is very interesting and one to watch. They monitor what is going-on, and choose all their runway models carefully off Instagram (an ode to the real person who will buy and wear their clothes). They are never involved in a cat and mouse chase between what the people want and what a brand is offering. On the contrary, by simply analysing what is happening they can offer consumers what they don’t yet know they want. Who knew they wanted the huge angular exaggerated padded shoulders they offered? Even traditional retailers with a more conservative clientele see anti-trend, anti-establishment and uber-expensive Vetements directional silhouettes fly off the shelf.

Vetements is not necessarily creating revolutionary new fashion, but is re-thinking the methodology of fashion creation, and the relationship between a fashion brand and its end-consumers. It is all about giving them what they want but have not yet looked for. A very Steve Jobs approach, a true revolution in 2016’s Fashion.

Their success has not gone unnoticed and Damna Gvasalia has now replaced Alexander Wang as the creative director of Balenciaga. I hope that Vetements’ methodology will now influence the design giant and other brands by proxy. I hope in other words that designers will be allowed again to create.

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