Fashion, fuses and fusion

In the new ‘Mechanical Couture’ exhibition at the Design Museum Holon, haute couture and hi-tech find a common thread.

ROBOTS DESIGNED by Dai Fujiwara 311 (photo credit: Shai Ben-Efraim)
ROBOTS DESIGNED by Dai Fujiwara 311
(photo credit: Shai Ben-Efraim)
A vacuum cleaner-inspired garment and wearer, a dress decorated with electrical wiring, a jacket that can be scanned for fingerprints – these are some of the objects you will see at the new exhibition Mechanical Couture at the Design Museum Holon.
At first, it is hard to imagine the fusion of fashion and technology. Haute couture is the epitome of custom-made, high-quality, expressive fashion. Conversely, machines are widely associated with alienation from the assembly process, and mass-produced machine-made clothing is the antithesis of couture. The combination of the two has resulted in a fresh, interesting and undeniably strange experience in design.
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Mechanical Couture was brought to Israel by US-based Curatorsquared, an independent curatorial partnership between Judy Fox and Ginger Gregg Dugan. In a recent conference call, Dugan explained that the team is “interested in areas where fashion, design and art meet, and not necessarily thinking about them in terms of a strict distinction between the genres.”
Why would fashion designers turn to machines?
No one can deny the increasing effect technology is having on our world, but how that technology affects our everyday lives varies greatly. Each designer has different motivations for exploring the mechanical realm, whether those motivations are philosophical, practical or experimental.
Dugan explains, “There is a current phenomenon where designers are looking to machines as an operating form as opposed to something that is exploited for its streamlining abilities and mass production. They are using them as a way to develop the design process into new and unexplored territories, trying to find a way to customize the craftsmanship a little bit more.”
The exhibition features 14 designers, working both independently and collaboratively. Some were followed by the curators throughout their creative process or found with already finished works, while others were commissioned to do specific machine-related projects.
The two Israeli designers in the exhibition, Yael Taragan and Dana Farber with Galya Rosenfeld, came up with concepts and were invited to complete them for the exhibition.
All the designers worked to produce items that were neither fully mechanical nor fully couture. Rather than simply adding mechanical elements to pre-existing trends in fashion, the designers attempted to fuse essences of the two contrasting processes.
Dugan insists that machines and couture are not just labels for certain products but that they represent concepts of creation, and the fusion of these concepts produces a completely new set of forms.
The exhibition is divided into four categories:
* Designer + Machine = Product
* Concept = Machine = Product * Product = Machine
* Designer through Machine = Product
Taragan falls under the category of Concept = Machine = Product. She earned a BA in philosophy, then went on to study fashion design at the Shenkar College in Tel Aviv.
Her project, Biometric, Biographic, reflects her broad interests, and she describes herself as a “designer/researcher in the fashion field.” Biometric, Biographic was created in response to a law that recently passed the first stages of legislation in Israel that would mandate the creation of a fingerprint database of all citizens for security purposes.
“The work shows three men’s jackets hooked with a new device that scans fingerprints off clothes. You can scan the clothes and see on the screen the people who touched this garment – who made it, who touched you on the subway, all kinds of fingerprints that the owner of the jacket left. You can tell the story of the clothing,” she explained.
And Taragan’s work is not the most unusual in the exhibition. The robots designed by Dai Fujiwara are dressed in garments designed and inspired by deconstructed Dyson vacuum cleaners. Fujiwara (creative director for Issey Miyake) worked with James Dyson to develop the technology for this project.
Another designer, Despina Popadopoulis, presented Masai Dress. It looks like an ordinary dress but acts as a machine that produces a recorded sound element.
Mechanical Couture addresses a wide spectrum of social and sociological subjects, but the focus of this exhibition seems to be a shift in the design process rather than just the new designs themselves.
The curators hope that by experiencing the exhibition, “anyone can learn something about the design process in general.”
Mechanical Couture runs through till January 8 at the Design Museum Holon,