Unusual look across time and cultures

It was probably the most talked about and popular exhibition that took place on the occasion of the Olympic Games here in Athens. «Ptychoseis: Folds and Pleats – Drapery from Ancient Greek Dress to 21st Century Fashion,» jointly organized by the Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation (PFF) and the Benaki Museum (it was held at the latter’s new wing on Pireos Street) as part of the Cultural Olympiad events, was both a surprise and a novelty, at least compared to the exhibitions that had been held in Athens up until then. For the first time, creations by a large number of the most renowned designers worldwide were shown in Greece. They were displayed in a carefully designed setting and put together in interesting juxtapositions that provided a contemporary, fresh perspective on the theme of the exhibition: the development of a piece of clothing from a single piece of fabric (a technique which includes draped and pleated clothing) from ancient times to the present. «Ptychoseis» offered a cross-cultural approach to draped and pleated clothing and helped reveal unsuspected similarities between traditional folk attire and contemporary clothing, designs produced by Western and Eastern civilizations or patterns and techniques used both in the most alternative, contemporary fashion and the fashion of past eras. Mixing clothing from different periods in time to provide a non-linear approach to the history of pleated clothing was the concept set out at the start by Vassilis Zidianakis, artistic director and co-curator of the exhibition along with Ioanna Papantoniou, a well-known costume designer, founder of the PFF and chief director of «Ptychoseis.» Zidianakis, who is now in the midst of preparing another exhibition, this time on futuristic clothing and the ways that fashion connects with technology, produced an inspiring and well-researched exhibition that prioritized a daring approach over convention. «Ptychoseis» opened with Issey Miyake’s «Colombe,» a futuristic piece of clothing wrapped around the body from a single piece of high-tech fabric cut by laser. There followed original ancient Greek sculptures in relief (on loan from the National Archaeological Museum) showing figures in pleated clothing and, right next to them, a costume worn by a Masai warrior. «My initial goal was to mix everything together even more than what the viewer was finally presented with. I really believe that in fashion one can move easily forward and backward in time. In the exhibition’s final section, for example, which presents avant-garde Belgian and Japanese fashion, one also finds a traditional, local piece of clothing from 19th century Skopelos,» Zidianakis told Kathimerini English Edition. Also in the exhibition was the traditional Greek fustanella, an item used as an example of pleated clothing. It was given a new, contemporary reading by Marcus Tomlinson’s video, a work especially commissioned by the exhibition through Atopos, a company that Zidianakis founded to meet the exhibition’s requirements but which has been active in independent projects since then. In the exhibition’s main section – the part that followed right after the more ethnographic section – Zidianakis thought of placing Vivienne Westwood’s «Watteau» before an original 18th century piece. «The point was not to follow the standard chronological sequence. I would rather make a mistake than design a standard display,» he said. Besides presenting beautiful garments, «Ptychoseis» was an exhibition that had character as well as atmosphere. It immersed the viewer in its theme and allowed a free-flowing navigation through the fashions of different periods. Zidianakis likes to think of exhibitions as experiences, not as information to be taken in mentally without being grasped as a whole. «I do not believe that exhibitions should simply be confined to the documentation of facts and information. An exhibition should first of all move the viewer, make him want to have another opinion; an exhibition should create tensions. Exhibitions should be made just like a play or a film is and, like them, should immerse the viewer in a story.» Another aspect of «Ptychoseis» was the emphasis it placed on the relationship between fashion and art. The video by British artist Marcus Tomlinson on the theme of the fustanella, another video by Tomlinson commissioned to present a collection by fashion designer Hussein Chalayan, and the last part of the exhibition that contained Issey Miyake’s «Fete Collection» (the collection was presented in an installation designed especially for «Ptychoseis» by Tokujin Yoshioka and the Miyake Design Studio) were examples both of how artists and fashion designers are working together and how fashion and contemporary art look increasingly alike. Zidianakis actually believes that some of the most interesting experimentations are nowadays produced by the world of fashion and not of contemporary art. What is for certain is that the world of fashion mimics that of contemporary art and vice versa. «An art student may nowadays seek inspiration from a Gallian or Issey Miyake creation. This would not happen in the past,» Zidianakis said. At the moment, some of the most alternative experimentations on fashion are coming out of Belgium and its center in Antwerp where the Mode Museum and the Flanders Fashion Institute of the city have helped spawn some of the world’s most interesting designers. «Antwerp, and the development of fashion that took place there, could serve as a model for Greece. Antwerp had no great industry, something which Greece lacks as well, just radical design and the right kind of promotion,» Zidianakis explained. Clearly, there is much to be done before Greek fashion develops into a dynamic force. Exhibits like «Ptychoseis» are working in this direction; they sensitize people to fashion and set an example for future projects. Zidianakis said that the response they had from the public was unexpectedly enthusiastic. One example of this response was how people donated vintage clothing to PFF, the only foundation in Greece that owns a complete collection on fashion. Encouraged by the success of the exhibition, the Benaki Museum, PFF and Atopos have been searching for ways to cooperate in the future. Zidianakis is already working independently, through Atopos, on his new project. Having completed a project with American photographer Jackie Nickerson (she photographed Miyake’s «Fete Collection» installation for «Ptychoseis» and the photos will be released by Atopos in a multimedia publication), he is now working with his team on an exhibition that will show the latest, futuristic developments in fashion. «Atopos: Art and Technology in Fashion,» the title of the exhibition, will, like «Ptychoseis,» span centuries of cultural history as seen through fashion. From Hermes’ magic sandals that enabled him to fly and Superman’s cape to Nike’s latest, microchip-containing shoes, the exhibition will explore the «superhuman» qualities of fashion and the ways that people have projected their dreams onto their attire. As in «Ptychoseis,» the exhibition will remind the viewer that fashion is something far more intricate than passing trends and consumerism. It is a form of art, an entire way of living, dreaming and thinking. A costume curator Vassilis Zidianakis approaches fashion in a multi-disciplinary, innovative way and presents its creations in an interesting, culturally broad context. Well versed in the history of fashion and its most contemporary developments, Zidianakis studied ethnology, anthropology and the history of civilization in Paris and is conducting a doctorate research on post-Byzantine ecclesiastical vestments from the Iviron monastery on Mount Athos. He was co-curator of an exhibition on vestments of the Eastern Orthodox Church, an exhibition organized by PFF at the Benaki Museum in 1999. He has worked as a set and costume designer for the theater and dance theater both as an assistant to Ioanna Papantoniou at PFF and as an independent costume designer and curator. He studied with Bob Wilson at the Watermill in New York and is a member of the ICOM Costume Committee, L’Association Francaise pour l’Etude du Textile and the Hellenic Costume Society.