In our progressively cyber world—with computers an ever-present part of our lives and technology fostering the democratization of ideas—a pronounced reaction has emerged. The luxury market concentrates on promoting personalized products: custom homes, vacations, cars, makeup, skincare, meals and made-to-measure clothing, for example. Luxury is that which is custom, for time is a luxury.
Often, custom is associated with handmade. If machines are automated and repetitive, their counterpoints are individuals, whose work is one-of-a-kind. Yet these distinctions are relative, for technology is ubiquitous and people use it in myriad ways. Furthermore, man creates, monitors and hones technology and, as such, can never truly be separate from it. Rather than viewing people and machines as contradictory, we should recognize that designing tools is intrinsic to being human. Determining where a product’s manufacture falls on the spectrum between being mass-produced and unique is a more appropriate inquiry.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current exhibition, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, explores the relationship between the hand (manus) and the machine (machina), challenging the perception that haute couture is made exclusively by hand. Pieces on display from Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Issey Miyake and Iris van Herpen, among others, demonstrate that haute couture fashion houses use technology not to save time but, rather, for its creative possibilities. In a fluid, dynamic relationship, state-of-the-art technical capabilities give rise to new styles and, vice versa, designers’ imaginations instigate building the tools needed to bring their ideas to fruition.
Ready-to-wear also engages both people and machines—from a garment’s design to its production and, ultimately, the ways it is altered. Initially, retail stores only sold made to order garments and were staffed by in-house tailors who fabricated clothes according to each customer’s taste and measurements. Spurred by industrialization, off-the-rack clothing in standardized sizes, or ready-to-wear, became available at boutiques and through catalogs during the 1890s. Mass production yielded affordability and by the 1920s, ready-to-wear had become mainstream, embraced by the growing middle class and its consumer culture.[i] Today, ready-to-wear encompasses an incredible range of designers and price points and made-to-measure clothing is much more unusual. But standard sizes will always merely approximate singular bodies. To achieve a custom fit, modifications are required and, alterations, therefore, remain essential.
At Rizik’s, alterations are amongst our most important services. Clothes for every occasion are transformed by the fitters’ guided hands, in ways as varied as our customers. One person prefers the length of their pants shortened, another might select a dress to fit her bust that then needs to be taken in at the waist, or a woman with a long torso may want adjustments to the bodice or hemline of her garments, for example.
For special events, looking one’s best is given particular importance. Virtually every Rizik’s bride has alterations to her wedding gown—its hem, bustle and fit, or more elaborate restyling like creating additional coverage with lace panels, by raising the back, or adding sleeves. As Elie Petrakis, Rizik’s Bridal Department Manager, describes, “Alterations are essential to the bridal gown having a flawless look. Dresses come in close to size from the designers but we need to tweak them to perfection.”
For a society increasingly driven by efficiency, time is our greatest luxury. It is an investment, therefore, to visit a store, trying on clothes and discussing one’s style preferences with a fitter who, in turn, spends hours carefully altering the garments, employing both machine and hand-executed techniques. We come in unique shapes and sizes and only individual attention yields precision—an experience not to be underestimated.
Both haute couture and ready-to-wear balance technology and human expertise according to the designers’ visions and their target customers. In the best of all possible worlds, man and machine work together, creating things that stretch our idea of what might be.
[i] National Museum of American History, http://americanhistory.si.edu/object-project/learning-resources/videos