Last week I visited the Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology exhibition at The Met organized by Andrew Bolton, head curator of the museum’s Costume Institute. I loved the experience and the couture fashion was gorgeous, but I nevertheless think Bolton missed an opportunity to extend the show beyond the age of technology and into the world of social. A hashtag just isn’t enough.
As you enter the exhibit, you instantly are drawn to a central domed-space housing a white Karl Lagerfeld dress, Wedding Ensemble of 2014-15. The dress is the intersection of handmade and machine-made, of techniques both classic and innovative. Taking his visual inspiration from the Baroque and Renaissance eras, Lagerfeld showcases historic silhouettes and opulent gold hand-painted pattern work. The gown is constructed with synthetic fabrics and common machine-aided construction processes popular today. Surrounding the dress are mirrored projections and the ethereal sound of Brian Eno’s “An Ending (Ascent)”. As I stood at the foot of the expansive train I was swept with an overwhelming urge to capture the moment and share it with an audience of my own. And I’m sure everyone else in the room had the same exact desire. Yet the social extension didn’t compel me to use #ManusXMachina for my moment of social sharing.
While this is a beautiful and thorough exhibit, its incorporation of technology seems shortsighted. The new generations of museumgoers no longer are idle eyes observing art, silently gazing from piece to piece. We’re Snapchat-loving, live-feed-watching, Instagram-addicted, participants looking for interactivity in every experience, whether it’s at museums or sitting alongside runways.
Just as the construction of each piece in this show isn’t dictated by the designers’ same-old use of tools, but instead born from their breaking the rules of tools, curators also should consider the viewers’ social interactivity to extend the viewers’ participation. Chanel has 12.9M Instagram followers; Louis Vuitton 11.4M. And The Met? Just 1.4M. By introducing a unique and immersive digital component, The Met could have leveraged fashion houses’ social success.
This exhibit showcases the beauty of fashion through the ages but fails to embrace one of the most influential developments in fashion today — social media.