Grecian Escape

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>> No, I haven’t done a runner and gone off to a Greek island to boycott fashion week.  I am already in New York (please stop asking me how I’m handling the snow – more than familiar with concept) but just before I left, right by the beautiful Mouki bolthole of a store, in the Hellenic Centre, designer Marios Schwab together with curator Ioanna Papantoniou, walked us through an exhibition called Patterns of Magnificence: Tradition and Reinvention of Greek Women’s Costume. We’re more than familiar with the chitons and peplos that the women and goddesses of Ancient Greece have been depicted wearing. Fast forward a few thousand years and you have yourself some of the richest examples of traditional dress. Costumes from different parts of Greece from the 18th to 20th century are hard to sum up in a handy nutshell. They vary because of the scattered physical geography of Greece but also because of its political structure when the Ottomans left in 1821 and modern Western European attire slowly infiltrated its way into the language of Greece’s national dress.

The short of it is that whether you’re fascinated by the ins and outs of Greek folkloric attire or not, these forty (often rare) ensembles on display are undeniably beautiful.  Unlike Schwab, who went around recalling fond memories of seeing similar ensembles in his childhood in Greece, I had no personal reference and instead thought of fabrics, techniques and motifs from Western Europe, Central Asia and Middle Eastern 18th-20th century dress, coming together in an often unexpected way.

Ancient Greece’s penchant for simple lines and unadorned costume lingers in the opening passage of simple chemises and cotton dresses, embroidered intricately.  They’re pieces that look covetable still, even in their yellowed state.  Then comes a group of bridal costumes, some with hundreds and hundreds of pleats creating an empire line silhouette that flares out from the bust.  They’re built up into a riot of European brocades mixed with elaborate feathered headdresses and silver bells jangling at the back for dancing.  Both John Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier have also paid homage to these elaborate traditional Greek costumes, drawn to their intensely ornate decoration.

Then we arrive at the point where the Ottoman empire have left and Greece as a modern state comes together after lands like Dodecanese islands, the Aegean islands and Thessaly are integrated back into the nation.  The country also gets a figurehead to look up to in Queen Amalia of Oldenburg, whose penchant for cropped tight fitting velvet jackets are incorporated with traditional dress.  Same goes for her successor Queen Olga, who brings in elements of her native Russia.  This portion of Greek women’s traditional costume is by no means an easy history of dress to understand but the process of assimilation and integration is an interesting one – one that keeps giving, with every look and even more so if you pick up the very comprehensive accompanying catalogue.

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