With more than 150 ensembles dating from the early 20th century to the present, the exhibition will address the founding of the haute couture in the 19th century, when the sewing machine was invented, and the emergence of a distinction between the hand (manus) and the machine (machina) at the onset of mass production. It will explore this ongoing dichotomy, in which hand and machine are presented as discordant tools in the creative process, and question the relationship and distinction between haute couture and ready-to-wear.
The Robert Lehman Wing galleries on the Museum's first floor and ground level will present a series of case studies to unravel the hand/machine conundrum. At the center will be an installation of toiles and prototypes presented as garments in the making or "monuments to ideas." Emanating from this presentation will be a series of rooms based on traditional métiers of the haute couture, including embroidery, featherwork, artificial flowers, pleating, lacework, and leatherwork, which will be presented alongside versions that incorporate innovative processes, such as 3D printing, computer modeling, bonding and laminating, laser cutting, and ultrasonic welding. A room dedicated to the ateliers of tailoring and dressmaking will reflect the traditional division of a maison de couture.