Early Monday morning, the fashion troops were assembled at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for what has become an annual ritual at New York Fashion Week, a press conference that serves as a teaser to the Costume Institute’s next big exhibition. The broad theme of the spring show, to open May 5, is the evolving relationship of production and technology to fashion, or more specifically, clothes that are made by hand versus those made by machine (hence the name, "Manus x Machina: Fashion in Technology").
This sounds like a no-brainer. But if the comments of Andrew Bolton, curator in charge of the Costume Institute, are any indication, there should be much to learn. It was surprising, at least, to know that some of the historic couture examples on display there, including a Chanel suit from the 1960s, were actually sewn by machine. We’ve always been operating under the impression that true couture garments are entirely made by hand, helping to justify their prices, but in fact, in this example, only the embellishments and surface details were done that way.
A more recent design, Karl Lagerfeld’s wedding dress from the fall 2014 Chanel Haute Couture collection (above), was made of scuba material that was hand-molded and machine-sewn. In fact, designers like Iris van Herpen, too, are approaching couture construction in far different ways than in the past. She considers scientists and computer programmers as critical to fashion’s future as seamstresses and embroiders. Wouldn’t it be informative if, rather than fill its galleries with dresses on mannequins, the Met transformed them into a working atelier to show how fashion is really made?
This thought occurred while watching Carolina Herrera’s terrific collection an hour later at the Frick. Even well in its fourth decade, her business looks more modern than ever. Her fall designs included decadently creamy gowns made into high-tech marvels through cut-outs in the stenciled shapes of flowers and leaves, the cut-outs having been re-attached to the dresses with neat little pins like scientific specimen. One look in particular, with rust-colored leaves attached in this manner, looked like an autumnal street scene with foliage floating all around it in the breeze (below).
“No ballgowns,” Zac Posen said before his collection. No kidding! Posen banished his signature red carpet looks to the red carpet, and saved his runway for what he was calling daywear. Well, now, this wasn’t exactly daywear, aside from a cool blazer with an asymmetric close or two. Instead came rustic printed floral dresses in humble cotton that still retained a sense of formality in their pristine fit. A lengthy group of wrappy, flappy dresses made of black stretch cady (not easy to work with!) trimmed in glass beads, had an almost gospel quality to them (all below). But just FYI, it was Princess Elizabeth of Toro (the African lawyer-turned-diplomat-turned-fashion-model who could teach Amal Clooney a thing or 200 about style) who Posen had in mind.
More ball gowns for Mrs. Herrera, then.
And more highlights from Monday from #NYFW: Be sure to check out the ongoing terrific-ness of The Row (I volunteer Mary-Kate and Ashley for the Met’s artists in residence, should they take my proposal seriously), Zero Maria Cornejo’s ongoing ability to infuse an enormous amount of creativity into a short and concise space, and Rag & Bone’s return to its roots – you couldn’t find a better camo parka nor a quilted lining at an army surplus store if you tried.