How Fashion Can Signify Advances in Textiles’ Performance, Technology, and Ethics

For this six-part series, Metropolis asked the textile industry's foremost experts what inspires them—here's what Knoll Textile's creative director, Dorothy Cosonas, told us.
Knoll Textiles Fashion Dorothy Cosonas

A vignette from the Met’s 2016 exhibition Manus x Machina. Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Textile design is, to say the least, a varied field. High-tech woven wearables seem far removed from efforts to grow climate-beneficial fibers, and further still from more everyday concerns, like improving commercial upholstery. But speculative art and industry research can propel each other in powerful ways. Metropolis asked six leading textile designers to name inspirational projects that have pushed them to think differently about their work.

The following fashion-forward inspirations come from Knoll Textile’s creative director, Dorothy Cosonas, who has created collections with designers including Suno, Rodarte, and Proenza Schouler. Stay tuned to the Metropolis homepage as we publish the other entries in this series!


Knoll Textiles Fashion Dorothy Cosonas

Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, the Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Manus x Machina was a thought-provoking exhibition that revisited the past to create an informed future,” Cosonas says of the 2016 Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute show, which presented hand- and machine-made techniques not as oppositional, but as “a spectrum of practice whereby the hand and the machine are equal protagonists in solving design problems,” as curator Andrew Bolton puts it.

The exhibition featured over 170 garments from the early 1900s to the present and showcased time-honored hand techniques alongside new technologies like 3D printing, computer modeling, and laser cutting. Among those who filled the galleries were Yves Saint Laurent, Junya Watanabe, Karl Lagerfeld, and Issey Miyake. In showing that textiles have moved decisively beyond the conventional hand-machine dichotomy, Manus x Machina showed just how fruitful the interchange among methods and mindsets has become.

Knoll Textiles Fashion Dorothy Cosonas

A display from Italiana: Italy through the Lens of Fashion, 1971–2001. Courtesy Francesco de Luca

Italiana, Palazzo Reale, Milan

Curated by Maria Luisa Frisa and Stefano Tonchi, Italiana: Italy through the Lens of Fashion, 1971–2001 explored Italian fashion’s transformation from its artisanal roots to the internationally recognized “Made in Italy” style. In doing so, the show, which was on view this past spring, spanned 30 years of Italian cultural history. Offering looks at breathtaking pieces by a cast as diverse as Fendi, Valentino, Archizoom, and Ettore Sottsass, Italiana positioned fashion as “a synthesis of different languages,” says Domenico Piraina, director at the Palazzo Reale, where the show was held.

“Italian sensibilities permeated not only the way we dressed, but also the way we thought about daily life,” says Cosonas. The exhibition serves as a reminder that fashion is an excellent vehicle to better understand a society.

You might also like, “Why Good Old-Fashioned Wool Is Back in Modern Textiles.”

Categories: Design, Products, Textiles

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