The theme of this year’s Met Gala, ‘Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology’, was embodied by the cognitive dress worn by supermodel Karolina Kurkova. Designed by Marchesa and IBM Watson, the gown changed colour in real-time to reflect the sentiment expressed by spectators on Twitter as footage of the gala played out online.
First, Marchesa settled on five key emotional states; joy, passion, excitement, encouragement, and curiosity. These were fed into Watson’s cognitive colour design tool, which came up with a colour palette which expressed these emotions. Watson then analysed the language of tweets relating to the gala, and subtly altered the hues of the dress in real-time, essentially turning the garment into a mirror of public opinion.
The convergence of fashion and technology was evident elsewhere at the gala; Claire Danes dazzled on the red carpet in a futuristic, Cinderella-inspired dress designed by Zac Posen. The gown, which was stunning enough, had a glitzy technological twist; its fibre-optic fabric glowed in the dark.
Every year, New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art hosts this black tie fundraising event—often fondly referenced as “fashion prom”—to benefit its lauded Costume Institute, in coordination with the opening of a new spring show. The 150-piece exhibition invited the exploration of “how fashion designers are reconciling the handmade and the machine-made in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear.”
Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton explains to CNN that human and machine tend to be seen as conflicting design influences, with the handmade tied to luxury, superiority, and elitism, and the machine associated with “progress and the future,” or else “mediocrity and dehumanization.” However, Bolton argues that this presumed dichotomy isn’t always accurate and hopes to challenge the myth, revealing that “sometimes a garment that’s been machine-made actually has more hours spent on it, is more luxurious than doing it by hand.”
Both gowns wouldn’t have glittered without their modern technological elements, but production on each required a painstakingly precise human touch. “We really felt that Watson enabled us to do our job better,” says Marchesa’s Keren Craig. The final result, powered by innovative technologies but made special by human artistry, confirm that manus and machina might just go hand-in-hand after all.