Couture: art and expert craft at the Metropolitan Museum, summer 2016


I don’t know why the distant Latin title – Manus x Machina – of an extraordinary exhibition about the art and craft of couture at the Metropolitan Museum, New York in the summer of 2016. 

Perhaps it was to evoke the long history of the handcrafts and to give us a frisson of a disjunction between the word ‘machina’ and what we think of as couture. 

Perhaps because the world of couture is distant from most of us.


A little less distant now:  here were  displayed and explained the results both of hand and machine work  with a focus on the transmission of these skills in France and in India (les metiers, les petites mains).  Focus also on the use of old and new machine aids in the creation of couture.

Embroidery, featherwork, pleating, lacework, beadwork, leatherwork, creation of artificial flowers and plants.

Nothing more sumptuous.   Nothing more exhilarating.


Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel this year paid large tribute to the women who tailor and sew the house’s fashions:  les petites mains.  He transformed the Palais Royal into a giant workshop, held his Fall/Winter 2016 collection there and walked out at the end of the show not with the models but with his employees.

The designer has ensured the survival of specialized workshops.  Chanel has bought ateliers specializing in feather work, bootmaking and leatherwork, glove-making,  a cashmere manufacturer, millinery,  button making, embroidery and costume jewellery.

Karl Lagerfeld with his seamstresses at Chanel couture fall 2016.

The finale, Chanel 2016 Winter/Fall collection


Chanel Fall/Winter 2016 collection at the Palais Royal made into Chanel’s tailoring and sewing workrooms.




Saint-Laurent, 1999, bridal regalia. 

Hand-made pink and gold silk flowers and leaves by Lemarie.



Dior’s ‘May Dress’, 1953.

  Machine sewn, hand-finished white silk organza and net, embroidered with artificial flowers, clover and grass in green, pink and purple silk floss.




Both dresses by Prada.  Autumn/winter 2016/2017.

Machine sewn silk organza.both machine embroidered with floral motifs and further embellished by hand with rhinestones, beads, plastic paillettes and plastic sequins.




Court presentation ensemble, 1928, made by the Boue Soeurs.

Hand sewn ivory silk tulle, machine embroidered with couched silver cord; insets of silver blue silk and metal lame with machine picot edging; hand appliqued with hand embroidered white silk tulle with artificial flowers and blue silk ribbon and floss.




Christian Dior, autumn/winter 1949-’50.

Machine sewn, hand finished gray silk taffeta and tulle; hand embroidered with grey silk tulle and horsehair petals, opalescent gold and silver gelatin sequins, feather-shaped paillettes,  synthetic pearls and clear crystals.




Hussein Chalayan, 2000 ‘Duck Dress’. 

Machine sewn pale pink polyester tulle, hand-gathered and sculpted into tufts and machine stitched to pink cotton twill.



No information.




Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, spring/summer 2012.

Hand and machine sewn nude silk organdy and net, hand-embroidered with red-orange glass beads, freshwater pearls and dyed shells.  Embroidery designed in-house and executed in India.




Yves St. Laurent for Dior, 1958, ‘L’Elephant Blanc’,

The designer’s debut collection presented this lamp-shade design made of five layers of white tulle.  Surface decoration was applied by hand by Maison Rebe and includes crystals, clusters of looped tassels with beaded strands, silk threads,  sequins and rhinestones.  The dress name refers to a French nightclub.




Roy Frowick for Halston, c. 1970.

Machine sewn light blue silk jersey printed with blue ombre imbrication pattern, machine embroidered with clear sequins.




Prada, autumn/winter 2011-2012.

Machine sewn white silk organdy, hand embroidered with opalescent plastic paillettes and clear beads.




Dior, Raf Simons, summer 2014. 2 layers of white silk mousseline sewn by machine and embroidered by hand.

Atelier Montex embroidered the underdress with clear plastic crystals, red glass seed beads and clear white, flower-shaped paillettes.  Broderie Vermont embroidered the overdress with white rayon florettes, red glass seed beads, iridescent flower-shaped paillettes, and small pieces of blue, black and white silk fabrics.  The cutwork was realized by hand and finished by machine by Broderie Vermont.



Maiko Takeda, 2013. ‘Atmospheric Re-entry’ headpiece and bolero.

Hand-cut, transparent fringe made of coloured ombre, handwoven with machine cut clear acrylic squares,  hand assembled with silver metal jump rings.




Gareth Pugh, autumn/winter 2015.

Machine sewn white silk wool gazar with overlay of white mesh, hand embroidered with clear plastic drinking straws.




Iris Van Herpen, spring/summer 2015.

Machine sewn black polyester microfiber and cotton twill, hand finished, hand embroidered with clear thermoformed, laser cut acrylic, hand-joined with clear silicone connectors.




Alexander McQueen, spring/summer 2009.

Machine sewn pale pink duchesse satin and nude silk georgette, hand-embroidered with pink enameled metal flower petals.





Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton, spring/summer 2012.

Machine sewn blue silk polyester crinkle organza, hand embroidered with laser-cut flowers, grometted with clear crystals and silver metal studs.  Machine sewn slip of white polyester organdy with machine made broderie anglaise flowers.




Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, autumn/winter 2006.  Wedding dress.

Made entirely by hand by Maison Lemarie and Maison Lesage.  The camellia is Chanel’s signature flower.  The dress, manufacture of camellias and application of sequins and feathers took 700 hours to complete.






The signature dress of the exhibition.  Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, autumn/winter 2014.

Described as ‘haute couture without the couture’.  It is made from scuba knit, molded, machine sewn and hand finished.  The buttons were hand embroidered with gold, glass and crystals.  The medallion was hand embroidered with glass, crystals, paillettes, and anthracite cannetilles and gold leather leaf.

The train of scuba knit and silk satin is machine sewn and manipulated to give the appearance of a randomized, pixilated baroque pattern. This was realized by an amalgam of techniques, hand and machine.

Perhaps a full-bodied transmission in its shape and drape from the Arnolfini  Marriage where my mind flitted.


The Arnolfini Marriage, 1434, oil on canvas.  Jan Van Eyck, 1309-1444, Netherlandish.  National Gallery, London.



Yves Saint Laurent, 1999, bridal regalia.

Hand made silk flowers with a train made of machine sewn silk gazar.



Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, spring/summer 2010.

Dress pink silk chiffon and charmeuse, hand-embroidered with 1300 silk satin flowers, pearls and pink frosted crystals.




Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, autumn/winter 2014/2015.

Machine sewn black silk organdy, hand embroidered with black ostrich feathers and black, gray, purple and green goose feathers. The dress underneath made the same way but with chiffon in place of organdy.




Yves St. Laurent.  Autumn/winter 1969/70.  Dress.

Machine sewn, hand finished nude silk gauze, hand glued with white, brown and gold bird of paradise feathers.



Cristobal Balenciaga, autumn/winter 1965-66.

Machine sewn, hand sewn pink silk net with pink silk Rachelle knit, trimmed with hand-glued pink ostrich feathers.



Valentino, spring/summer 2014.

Detail of a coat made by hand and machine of black silk organdy, hand embroidered with black leather and silk artificial flowers and feathers.



Detail of a Hussein Chalayan’s ‘Kaikokou floating dress’, autumn/winter 2011/2012.

Cast fiberglass painted with gold metallic pigment, hung with Swarvorski crystal and pearled paper pollens.  The form was motorized and controlled by a radio handset.




Three as Four ‘Bahai’ dress, spring/summer 2014.

Machine sewn white nylon power mesh, hand embroidered with 3D printed ivory resin and nylon by Materialise.




Iris Van Herpen.  Autumn 2012.

3D printed dark orange epoxy by Materialise, hand sanded and hand sprayed with a technical transparent resin.




Saint Laurent, spring/summer 1983. ‘The Sardine’.

The dress is of black silk crepe, the seams sewn by machine and finished by hand. The surface is hand embroidered with black and pewter beads and opalescent, coloured gelatin paillettes to evoke the iridescent skin of a fish.  A task of 1500 hours.




Christopher Kane, spring/summer 2013.

Shirt:  machine sewn grey synthetic organza.  Skirt:  machine sewn white silk organdy with hand-stitched overlay of 3-D printed black polyurethane bows.



Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel. Autumn/winter 2015/2016.  Detail of a suit.

3D printed white polyamide overlay by Materialise with hand stitched clear crystals.  Its lining is of black silk crepe de chine, hand embroidered with gold, synthetic sequins.




Thierry Mugler, autumn/winter 1990/91.  ‘Neon dans la Nuit’ suit.

Machine sewn black silk velvet, hand embroidered with optical flourescent stripes.




Nicolas Ghesquiere for Luis Vitton, spring/summer 2016.

Machine sewn white cotton poplin; machine sewn hand applique overlay of ivory silk synthetic net, bonded with laser-cut metallic strips, hand air brushed with blue gray pigment, hand grommeted with copper metal.




Spring/summer 2010, polyamide, leather, cotton, acrylic leather.

Iris Van Herpen, Dutch born 1984.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY







Issey Miyake. Spring/summer 1990.

Machine garment pleated, machine sewn yellow and red purple polyester-linen plain weave.




Noa Raviv, 2014.

Black and white 3D printed polymer by Stratasys, hand sewn white syntetic tulle with adhesive applique of laser-cut black polyester twill leave.




Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga, spring/summer 2003.

Machine sewn ivory polyamide power mesh, machine topstitched with elastic; hand stitched, hand stitched and hand applied pleats of ivory polyamide mesh.



Mary McFadden, c. 1980.

Machine sewn, machine pleated red polyester charmeuse, hand stitched with hand embroidered trim of sequins, beads and gold metallic thread.




Raf Simons for Dior.  Spring/summer 2015.

Hand pleated, machine sewn white silk organdy, hand embroidered with polychrome silk grosgrain ribbon.



Issey Miyake, 1993 (recreated 2016).  ‘Pleats Please’.

Machine sewn polyester plain weave, machine garment pleated in paper.




Junya Watanabe for Comme Des Garcons.  Autumn/winter 2015/2016.

Machine sewn gray wool and polyurethane jersey.




Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen.  Autumn/winter 2012/2013.

Laser cut white pony skin bonded to black leather, machine sewn and hand finished with Mongolian wool.




Thom Browne, spring/summer 2013.

Laser cut white ethylene-vinyl acetate foam.  Entirely made by machine.



Irish.  Wedding dress. c. 1870.

Hand crocheted cream cotton lace with three-dimensional reliefs including roses, lilies of the valley, hanging fuchsias, morning glories, buds and berries, and flat and folded leaves and ferns.

2 thoughts on “Couture: art and expert craft at the Metropolitan Museum, summer 2016

    1. There is hardly a one I don’t like. But I would wear very few. Feathers make me anxious. Anything that restricts in any way is not for real. I don’t like the central offering in the show. If you look at the sleeve edges you can see how thick the material is.

      I love Issaye Miyake and anything that flows. There is one in here about which I have no information. It is the kind of dress which makes a woman feel elegant, comfortable and powerful. I love it.

      Bemused by the row going on in France about what some Moslem women choose to wear (nikab, burkini etc.). Here you have bunches of French clothing which, if you tried to wear it, you would have to be carried around on a litter, protected from the elements like maharanis of old!

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