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Up-Close With the Costume Institute's Next Exhibit

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The Costume Institute's spring exhibit doesn't open until May 5th, but today we got an up-close look at a dozen pieces that will be featured in the show. Titled Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, the exhibit will explore the relationship between handmade and machine-made clothing, promising over 100 examples of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear on display.

The sampling we saw included Chanel suits (one from Coco, another from Karl), a feathered YSL dress from the '60s, Issey Miyake's famous "flying saucer" dress, and an Iris van Herpen piece adorned with actual bird skulls.

"Instead of presenting the handmade and the machine-made as opposition, the exhibition suggests a spectrum of practice," Andrew Bolton, the Costume Institute's curator, explained at a press preview this morning. Along that spectrum — later referred to as "the hand-machine continuum" — he posits that "the hand and the machine are equal and mutual protagonists in solving design problems and enhancing design practices."

Essentially, the exhibit is about process, which is a hard thing to get the average museum-goer excited about. Communicating the "how" of creation in a way that is both entry-level and engaging is a challenge. This show isn't about the captivating life and work of Alexander McQueen, or a straightforward theme like "punk" — it's about fairly technical stuff, the nerdy nitty-gritty.

But even you don't want to get schooled on featherwork techniques or the promise of 3D printing, there will certainly be gobs of incredible dresses to look at. If today's preview was any indication, the exhibit will be composed of the kinds of haute couture trophy pieces non-billionaires rarely get face time with, which in and of itself will make it worth a visit.