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How Tech Played Out on the Met Gala Red Carpet

Cracking the ‘Manus x Machina’ dress code

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Some Met Galas have themes that make dressing for the red carpet pretty literal: punk, China, superheroes. "Manus x Machina: Fashion In an Age of Technology" is... loose. The exhibit itself explores the evolution of dressmaking from handmade (manus) to machine made (machina), and all the different ways the two can work together. It's the How Stuff Works of Costume Institute exhibits. How, then, is someone supposed to dress for that?

"Tech white tie" was the dress code assigned by the invitation — still wholly unclear — and left to the interpretation of the guests. Most gala attendees went with a general retrofuture feel in shiny looks resembling liquid metal, bodices that outlined the bust like robotic chest armor, even more literal robot references, latex-like fabric, and more than one count of silvery hair. Tech accessory of the night goes straight to Mr. Orlando Bloom, who wore a Tamagotchi on his suit jacket.

beyonce-met-gala-2016-red-carpet-givenchy

Clockwise from top left: Kim Kardashian-West and Kanye West in Balmain (note Kanye's eye-altering contact lenses); Zayn in Versace suit and Gigi Hadid in Tommy Hilfiger; Beyoncé in Givenchy; Lady Gaga in Versace

The best example of true fashion-tech innovation goes to Marchesa, who didn't visually reference abstract futurism, but rather employed a robot to design a gown. The fashion brand fed IBM's cognitive computer system Watson hundreds of images of past designs, so it could learn the Marchesa look. True to Marchesa form, Watson turned out a romantic dress with layers of tulle, a nipped waist, and a pretty deep V neckline, worn by model Karolina Kurkova. The dress discreetly wove in LED lights that were tuned to respond with color to Twitter chatter, based on the tone of messages around the Met Gala.

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Another clear standout was the light-up ballgown Zac Posen designed for Claire Danes. In bright light, the Cinderella-esque dress appears pale blue; by dark the fiber optic-woven organza lights up. Like Marchesa's effort, the style of the look is true to Posen, with the tech element adding an unexpected thrill rather than dictating the aesthetic.

A photo posted by @zacposen on

Tory Burch worked with Swarovski on some new techniques less impressive than what Marchesa or Zac Posen accomplished, but still noteworthy. The designer dressed Emma Roberts, Freida Pinto, and Mindy Kaling, each with a variation of crystal innovation. Roberts's chiffon dress was embellished with heat-sealed crystal rock fabric, Pinto's bonded crepe dress was finished with color-changing crystals, and Kaling carried a clutch finished with those same color-changing crystals. Batteries and "multi-pixel technology" were hidden in seams and embedded in border embellishments, the brand explained. The looks were true to the designer's style, with a tech add-on, if a little gimmicky. A participation trophy goes to Burch.

A video posted by Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling) on

Kaling demonstrates her clutch's color changing crystals.

Another future-minded effort came in the form of sustainable and recycled materials (and not just, like, vintage Valentino). Calvin Klein collaborated with the Green Carpet Challenge on all three of its Met Gala looks, worn by Lupita Nyong'o, Emma Watson, and Margot Robbie. The green, sequined dress Nyong'o wore (topped by a fabulously alien quadruple topknot hopefully hiding an antenna or something) used three fabrics all woven from yarn made from recycled plastic bottles. The zippers on her dress were also made from recycled materials, and the inner bustier was crafted in organic cotton. Watson's five-piece ensemble — kind a bustier-and-trousers thing with a train — was also crafted entirely from fabrics that were once plastic bottles. Robbie's white column dress was made of organic silk with zippers made from recycled materials.

H&M got in on the eco-friendly thing, too, with the dark blue dress it made for model Amber Valletta. The fast fashion brand wasn't particularly detailed in what "an elegant look in sustainable materials" meant, but did note that the dress's 1,000+ silk petals were organic, and the sequins were made of recycled plastic.

While some designers took the tech theme as an opportunity to reinterpret 1968's Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy or imagine looks fit for SpaceX's 2018 trip to Mars, this group showed us what the real, near future of fashion and technology can look like.


Every look from the 2016 Met Gala red carpet:


Met Gala 2016: Most memorable red carpet looks

Clockwise from top left: Kim Kardashian-West and Kanye West in Balmain (note Kanye's eye-altering contact lenses); Zayn in Versace suit and Gigi Hadid in Tommy Hilfiger; Beyoncé in Givenchy; Lady Gaga in Versace
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