Upon my second visit to the Manus x Machina exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art I walked in and out of the exhibition space, carefully considering how this grouping of designs fit into one of the greatest collections of art in the world. Unlike the paintings, sculptures or even armors in the surrounding rooms, there is another element entirely to consider when displaying articles of clothing. Unlike paintings, they are not to be simply hung on the wall, with a curatorial wall color's decision. They cannot be put on a neutral podium, that disappears as irrelevant in the background when looking at the sculpture atop it. No, the fashion world has moved beyond that. Designers have been addressing the women (and men) who wear their lines for as long as they have been putting them on the runway.
Most labels have defined the person who wears their clothing so well, they can label their market in specific list of exclusive adjectives. In the documentary "Dior and I", we can see Raf Simons sift through a line up of models for the girls who embody the "Dior" look. Imagine Alexander McQueen not carefully considering the over-aggressive lipstick he paired with a dress. Would this effect the designs themselves? The article itself obviously does not change, but the context does, and this has become just as important for fashion. A romanticl lace dress can become more than just elegant when paired with raw make up, or the aggressive walk of an edgy model in a hostile heel. Do designs without this context leave us underwhelmed with more to be desired? Or is this the point? Are we meant to look at the quality of the designs in a show about the machine and hand made? Perhaps really we are meant to look at the individual stitch, lines of bead work and detailed layers of fabric sans a completed picture and really appreciate the piece for what it is: a work of art.