Draping, folding and pleating from antiquity to today: the fashion of life

Just as one piece of cloth embraces the body, its folds, drapes and pleats reflect life itself. This – in a stylish nutshell – is the essence of a highly ambitious exhibition tracing the bold ancient Greek chiton tunic to the African Masai robe, all the way to Issey Miyake’s liberating pleats. The exhibition is a stunning Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation production, staged on behalf of the Cultural Olympiad, and hosted by the new wing of the Benaki Museum on Pireos Street. Titled «Ptychoseis: Folds and Pleats, Drapery from Ancient Greek Dress to 21st Century Fashion,» this is the first major exhibition of its kind in Greece, a three-and-a-half year project which opened to the public Tuesday night. The idea belongs to Ioanna Papantoniou, a leading Greek costume designer and costume historian who presides over the Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation. The result is a journey through time where the masterful pleats of Mariano Fortuny mix with those of newcomer Sophia Kokosalaki and the work of bias-cut innovator Madeleine Vionnet stands alongside the vision of Yohji Yamamoto. It is also where fashion, for the first time in this country, melds with art, culture, history and politics. «Of course, the inspiration came from Greece, but pleats acted as a starting point,» said the show’s co-curator Vassilis Zidianakis to Kathimerini English Edition. «For me drapes and pleats are the ‘physiology’ of the garment, its anatomy.» It was Zidianakis who traveled the world in search of pieces; once he had located what he was looking for came the hard part – persuading museums and institute officials to lend their treasures. These included the Kyoto Costume Institute (which lent no fewer than 38 pieces to the show), the Metropolitan Museum in New York (which recently hosted an exhibition titled «Goddess,» tracing the ways classical dress influenced the arts throughout time), the Musee de l’Homme, the Musee Galliera and the Musee de la Mode et du Textile in Paris, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum (which lent a mid-18th century Cretan garment), the newly established Mode Museum in Antwerp, the Kent State University Museum in Ohio, and Luxemburg’s Musee d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean. Back home, Zidianakis had some work as well: In the absence of original ancient garments, he persuaded the National Archaeological Museum to lend ancient statues. At the Benaki, a wrap skirt worn by the Kachin peoples in Burma lies next to the sensational, early 20th century pleats of Calabria, Indian saris and Afghan burqas. The journey also includes French 18th century and Empire dresses, Greek and British walking dresses from the 19th century, riding skirts and bustles. Then there’s Spaniard Fortuny, whose involvement in the arts led him to the creation of «Delphos,» a natural silk gown whose pleating method liberated the body from the corset – how he did it remains a secret; Christian Dior’s «New Look,» which marked the postwar period with the «Bar Suit;» followed by Alexandrian-born Greek Jean Desses; the work of Alix Gres; Pierre Balmain; Cristobal Balenciaga all the way to Yiannis Tseklinis’s printed «Insects» from the 1970s; Thierry Mugler’s golden, padded-shouldered evening dress; Vivienne Westwood’s «Watteau» dress from 1996, leading to the Japanese school of Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons and master Yohji Yamamoto. There’s John Galliano’s Africa-inspired «Kamata» dress for Dior, Calvin Klein and Christian Lacroix. The work continues in the 21st century with pieces by the Belgian school, including secluded Martin Margiela, Raf Simons and the flamboyant Walter van Beirendonck, Dries van Noten and deconstruction queen Ann Demeulemeester; as well as a glimpse of Greek, London-based Kokosalaki and Alexander McQueen’s sensational «Oyster» gown. There is also an unexpected fashion presentation of the work of Hussein Chalayan, «Afterwords,» (2001) created by video artist Marcus Tomlinson – the latter has also come up with a fluid rendition of the traditional foustanella. At the new Benaki wing, the museum store makes its own creative statement: Inspired by the current exhibition, Greek artists have cast their own take in pleats and drapes through jewelry, objects and garments, alongside a plethora of new local and foreign book titles, focusing on fashion, photography and art. Meanwhile, parallel to the exhibition, a conference titled «Pleats and Folds – Multiple Meanings,» explores history, society and fashion through a series of presentations and discussions which end tonight. «Ptychoseis» at the Benaki Museum, 138 Pireos Street, open Monday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The exhibition runs to October 17.