Tribute to a pioneering museum on costume

The garments in which people have dressed themselves can be a fascinating study of a country’s social structure, economy, lifestyle, taste or production. From traditional costumes to contemporary fashion, the style, cut, fabrics or manufacture of clothing provide endless sources of information about any particular culture. This broad cultural approach to clothing comes through in an exhibition that draws from the collection of the Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation (PFF) and opened yesterday at the Pireos Street annex of the Benaki Museum. The exhibition is a tribute to the 32nd anniversary of this pioneering Greek institution and honors the esteemed, costume and theater set designer Ioanna Papantoniou, the PFF’s founder. In the Benaki exhibition, traditional costumes from all over Greece are jointly presented with late-18th century European clothing, 20th-century and contemporary pret-a-porter by designers such as Lanvin, Carven, Jacques Fath, Zandra Rhodes and Issey Miyake. There is also furniture – both Greek and European – paintings, drawings and decorative objects. Shown together, the exhibition’s contents take the viewer on a non-linear journey through time and different cultures. It makes connections between different fields – for example, it includes the drawings that the artist Yiannis Tsarouchis made on a traditional Greek costume from Atalanti, central Greece – and places clothing and fashion in a cultural context. It is with this in mind that Papantoniou has built the PFF’s collection, which today comprises about 27,000 objects as well as important ethnographic material, mainly archives that comes from fieldwork made from the 1950s through the 70s. Through the years, the PFF has also come to own a large collection of children’s toys which are housed at the childhood museum Stathmos, an annex of PFF founded in 1989. At the exhibition at the Benaki Museum’s New Wing, hundreds of those toys – teddy bears, dolls of the Little Prince, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, toys and furniture – have been put together to create a children’s world of fantasy. The foundation As a child, Ioanna Papantoniou was member of the Lyceum of Greek Women and roamed the country in search of ethnographic material while studying the Greek folklore tradition. In her early 30s, she studied costume design in London. Driven by her passion for costume, both traditional Greek and theater costumes, she used her family’s assets (her father owned the Kyknos canning factory) along with her own funds to establish the PFF in 1974. Based in Nafplion, the foundation was housed at her father’s home; since then the foundation’s museum carries his name, Vassileios Papantoniou. In the early 1980s PFF received an award for European Museum of the Year and began to organize exhibitions abroad. Some of the exhibitions organized in Greece include «Amfia: Vestments of the Eastern Orthodox Church,» an exhibition on Jean Desses and on Yiannis Tseklenis, as well as «Ptychoseis = Folds + Pleats,» which was presented on the occasion of the Cultural Olympiad. In spite of the persistent problems faced by inadequate state funding, PFF has consistently produced creative projects, including research and important publications by eminent scholars. (An example includes Samuel Baud-Bovy’s research on Greek popular songs published in 1983.) The Benaki New Wing exhibition is an opportunity for the public to become more fully aware of the work conducted by this important institution and to appreciate the vision of its founder, Ioanna Papantoniou. «32 Years of the Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation – The Vassileios Papantoniou Museum… The Collections» at the Pireos annex of the Benaki Museum (138 Pireos & Andronikou, tel 210.345.3111) through June 30. Another exhibition, «The Greek Town: Nafplion 1822-1922,» is taking place at the PFF premises in Nafplion,