One thing I need to point out before diving into today’s post is that as a show that is in large part showing how advancing technology is being used in high fashion, many of the clothes in Manus X Machina are less than a decade old. It’s possible that a few are even still available to buy in high-end retail establishments.
Given the nature of the show this is necessary, but what surprised me was how many of the newer items were courtesy of the fashion house that made them. Probably the most heavily represented was Chanel. It gave the show a bit of a commercial air, a criticism that is often mentioned in conjunction with the Met’s Chanel show of 2005.
That aside, and regardless if you give a care about current fashion, with almost 200 garments on view, there is more than enough of the best of the Costume Institute for visitors to enjoy.
The dress and detail above are from a 1928 court presentation gown from French couturiers, the Boué Soeurs. The dress really is a showstopper with the silver threads and the lovely silk flowers. And even though this is haute couture from the 1920s, much of the work, such as the silver embroidery and the picot edging, was done by machine.
At this point I want to acknowledge the superb work done by the Costume Institute conservators. This dress looks so fresh and new, but you can be sure it was not received in such condition. I am in awe of their skill.
There is a clever little detail that tells us this cape and the matching dress is from Chanel. Can you see it?
Look at the row of pink pearls at the hem of the dress that are used in place of the Chanel chain. Two Chanelisms for the price of one.
I thought it was really interesting how the common yo-yo, so often found in Depression era quilts and made from feedsack material, has found its way into Chanel haute couture. Note how the “flowers” are small at the top, and gradually increase in size.
Each flower has little crystals sewn in the center. There are 1,300 of them. From the 2010 Spring haute couture.
And here is another from Chanel, a wedding ensemble from 2005. Coco Chanel used the camellia as her signature flower, but in less conspicuous ways than this dress made of 2500 handmade flowers. This dress could have also been featured in the feathers category. Later on in the exhibition, there is a Chanel lace gown showing her more restrained use of artificial camellias.
Again, the color in my photo is off. This dress is white.
Anyone who ever doubts that Miuccia Prada is very influenced by the past, especially the 1930s, has only to look at these two dresses from the current Prada fall ready-to-wear collection. The embroidery is done by machine, while the clusters of sequin and bead flowers are made and attached by hand.
What can I possibly say about Monsieur Dior’s floral fantasies? These two, from 1952 and 1953, were sewn by machine, but otherwise were made by hand. Note how in both dresses the embroidery “fades” near the hem.
How many shades of green do you suppose the embroiderers used to make those leaves?
Here we have not one Fortuny silk pleated dress, but five! Marian0 Fortuny developed a special process for pleating light-weight silk, which he used from 1907 until his death in the 1940s. The gowns were based on his vision of Greek clothing, and they were decorated with glass beads to add weight, and often trimmed with his hand-printed satin and velvet fabrics.
See the little attached beads along the hem?
Many of Fortuny’s processes have never been duplicated, though many have tried. Notable among them is Mary McFadden, who in the mid 1970s patented a similar pleated fabric made of polyester. The colors were rich, the decoration often lavish, and the silhouettes straight and long.
This part of the exhibition was very interesting because it was in a hall with the Fortunys on one wall, and the McFaddens on the wall opposite. The view was simply breathtaking.
Here you see Madame Grés paired with Iris van Herpen. I’m afraid I witnessed more than one visitor stifling giggles at the sight of the van Herpen skirt. The top though, is a marvel, being 3-d printed. The comparison with the pleating of Madame Grés was well done, though the Grés gowns were in the background, and a bit in the shadows. It was impossible to really see the details.
Here is another example of what makes this exhibition so interesting. The 1990 pleated pieces above are by Issey Miyake, and on the opposite wall they have displayed the same pieces flat on the floor.
I should have flipped this photo, as the order is reversed, but the closest piece in each photo is the same. Did they come with instructions for wearing?
I remember these skirts from Raf Simons for Dior. There were part of the 2015 spring haute couture. Much of what you see was made by machine, though the pleats were set by hand. I’m not sure why this was deemed important enough to show off three looks from the collection, but I suspect it was just for the visual impact.
I suppose you can call this technique pleating. The original concept is the brown dress, made by Pierre Cardin in 1968. It’s polyester that was heat-molded. The black dress is from Junya Watanabe and was made from a similar technique in 2015.
Okay, this is where I admit that there are times when I simply do not “get” everything. Maybe because the juxtaposition of Dior’s 1947 Bar suit with Hussein Chatlayan’s 2007 Mechanical Dress, and Paco Rabanne’s 1968 dress made of links of aluminum was too jarring. Perhaps I’d already absorbed my limit. But even while standing there in the gallery, I scratched my head, though happy to see both the Dior and the Rabanne.
Then I realized that the exhibition takes a bit of a detour at that point, and this was a bit of an introduction to the inner workings of a garment. The Dior is completely dependent on the inside structure of the jacket, the Rabanne has no interior structure, and the Chatlayan is a mix of the two. I’ll show more of that part of the exhibition in the next installment.