Woman Meets Machine

Academy student’s innovative designs are honored at Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute event


Designer Alyssa Watson (left) pictured above with award winning MET Gala dress inspired by melting Arctic ice. Modeled by Noémie Medini. Photo by Fujio Emura.

The Metropolitan Museum’s Manus x Machina – Fashion in an Age of Technology exhibition has been the blockbuster hit of the season. Sponsored by the Met’s Costume Institute, and curated by Andrew Bolton, it has demonstrated the rare ability to unite the two diverse fields of fashion and tech in a way that does justice to both.

So imagine the surprise of B.F.A. fashion design student Alyssa Watson when she found out that the project she had created had been selected for an exhibition of student work in conjunction with the show.

“Every semester in design, there’s a final project that’s a face off for a competition,’’ Watson explained.

“The Met project was on the idea of taking fashion and infusing it with technology. For the last couple of years, I’ve been extremely interested in 3-D printing, and fiber optics, as part of my designs. My project was inspired by the Arctic ice melting, black ice and the shapes created when ice melts.’’

After going through a laborious submission project, in which her work was evaluated by Simon Ungless, executive director of the School of Fashion and Gary Miller, director of Fashion Design, it was selected to be sent in to the Met student competition.

“I had never had a project get that far before, so I was super excited,’’ said Watson. “I got an email from Gary saying Simon had seen my project and moved it to the next step with the Met—I never imagined it would go that far!

“We had a week and a half to see it was accepted, and then we found out there were 10 finalists, including five from the Academy. They gave us a month to make the garment—we had to send it to them by May 13, because the date of the event was May 17. The whole time, I was here in San Francisco doing classes, but we mailed the garments on [May 9]. I had finals, so I did not leave for New York until [May 16]. I got to the museum on [May 17] at 5 o’clock, when it was actually closing, so I talked to the people in the lobby, explained why I was there and they took me down through secret passages to the basement of the Met, where we were allowed to dress the mannequins and make adjustments.

“Everything was perfect but then I decided, ‘Hey, I’m going to change the battery’—I don’t want it to go out in the middle of the event. But as soon as I go to change the batteries, it stopped working. My heart rate was going through the roof, but on the outside, I was very calm and collected.’’

The story had a happy ending. They found a Met electrician who happily fixed the dress, which ultimately was one of the contest winners, selected by a blue ribbon panel including members of the threeASFour design collective, Joris Debo, MGX, director at Materialise and Met Costume Institute Head Curator Andrew Bolton. The panel’s discussion on the future of technology in fashion was moderated by Robin Givhan, Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion editor of the Washington Post.

Other finalists from the Academy were B.F.A. student Jessica Wijaya and M.F.A. students Panalda Andreae, Sungho Hong and Xiaoyu Zhao.

It was a doubly productive semester for Watson, who found out shortly after the Met event that she had also been selected for a full year scholarship at L’Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture in Paris.


Model Noémie Medini pictured in Watson’s award-winning dress inspired by Arctic ice melting. Photo by Fujio Emura, a student of the School of Photography at the Academy of Art University.

“I honestly felt like that happened because of the Met—once my design got accepted there, all these things started coming my way,” she said. “It’s a huge opportunity. I’ll be studying fashion design starting in October and my tuition will be completely covered by the Academy.”


See more of Watson’s work at: