Tags: Fashion,  Undergraduate Students,  Faculty

‘Manus x Machina’ at the Met

Alyssa Watson was thrilled about how the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s latest fashion design challenge lined up with her design interests. “Every semester in [Fashion] Design there are projects linked to a competition. I had been discouraged at not progressing in the last few competitions, so this time I decided to focus on having a good time and designing something that I enjoyed designing.” Organized by The Costume Institute and College Group at the Met, the contest invited undergraduate and graduate fashion design students from around the country to submit a design relating to the museum's blockbuster exhibition, Manus x Machina—Fashion in an Age of Technology. Designers were called upon to create designs that explore or reconcile the hand/machine dichotomy ...and ultimately advance the future of fashion.
Watson’s award-winning design was inspired by Arctic ice melting, black ice, and the shapes created when ice melts. “I decided I wanted to look at Arctic ice and how it’s going to melt at some point in the future. That was the focus and inspiration for my collection,” she says. After going through a lengthy submission process, in which her design was evaluated by School of Fashion Executive Director Simon Ungles and Fashion Design Director Gary Miller, Watson’s design was ready to move into competition. “This was the first time my project had been recognized by my instructor—even that was amazing. It was almost like a little confirmation that I had made the right decision to stay in fashion. I was over the moon.”

Watson soon found out she had been selected as one of 10 finalists (along with five other Academy of Art University students) and had a month to construct her garment and send it to the Met. Hitting on the idea to use 3D printing to construct her glacier-inspired garment, Watson sculpted the initial piece in clay, scanned it, turned it into a computer model, and then 3D printed it.

The semifinalists traveled to New York City for judging on May 17, 2016, and were given the opportunity to dress their designs on dress forms and make adjustments before the judges arrived. Everything was going well for Watson until she made the decision to change the batteries on the fiber optic lights inside her dress to ensure they wouldn’t go out during the event. As soon as she did, the lights stopped working. Luckily she was able to enlist the help of a Met electrician who stripped the wires and taped them up just in time for the judging. Watson was awarded first place by a panel that included members of the threeASFOUR design collective, Creative Director of Materialise Joris Debo, and Met Costume Institute Head Curator Andrew Bolton. Watson was later awarded crowd favorite during the surprise after-party.

Alyssa's Journey

Alyssa Watson grew up loving fashion, and realized Academy of Art University was the right school for her after attending the Academy’s Graduation Fashion Show in 2012. Each year the Academy invites a guest of honor from the fashion industry to attend the show, and that year it was Sarah Burton, creative director at fashion brand Alexander McQueen. “The moment she came out, it was that moment when I decided this is where I want to be,” she said.

Now in her final year in the School of Fashion, Watson will spend it in Paris studying at L’Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne as part of the Academy’s competitive Fashion Exchange Scholarship program. She made participating in the program a goal the second she found out about it during her first semester. “I immediately said yes, I want that, and asked what  I need to do,” she says. To prepare for classes being entirely in French, Watson began learning the language in 2013, taking classes at the Academy, and continuing her studies privately. “I honestly felt like this scholarship happened because of the Met—once my design got accepted there, all these things started coming my way. It’s a huge opportunity.”

Cutting-Edge Techniques

3D Printed Elements
Fiber Optics

3D Printed Elements

3D printing technology is constantly evolving and changing, and now that there are multicolor, multimaterial 3D printers out there, the fashion industry is along for the ride. Designers are able to push the technology even further to create designs of varying color gradations and material thicknesses.


Fiber Optics

Optical fiber can be used for transmitting light from a source to a remote location for illumination as well as communication. Fibers are made to not only transmit light but to glow along the fiber itself, so it resembles a neon light tube.



Soldering is the method of fusing metal parts together with another metal of a lower melting temperature. The technique is used to form a permanent connection between electronic components.

Alyssa’s Mentor

Gary Miller, Fashion Design Director
School of Fashion

Gary Miller is a menswear fashion director with more than 16 years of experience in New York and London. His design scope encompasses building and maintaining brand identity, initiating a start-up concept, reinvigorating an existing line, and nurturing an successful ongoing brand. He worked as a design director for the Men’s Sportswear Division at Macy’s Merchandising Group in New York and has held design positions at the Men's Wearhouse, Wilk-Rodriguez, Here and There, and Michiko Koshino.

School of Fashion Programs

Costume Design

Fashion Design

Fashion Journalism

Fashion Marketing

Fashion Marketing & Brand Management

Fashion Merchandising

Fashion Merchandising & Management

Fashion Product Development

Fashion Styling

Textile Design

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