The Report: Haute Couture in Ancient Greece

The Report is a blog series created to showcase the Festival's Fashion Writing finalists. Writers are sent to Arts, Ideas and Independent Runway events, to take a closer look at the diverse program beyond the runway, and explore fashion that takes us to galleries, stage, screen and more.

Kyra is studying the Master of Publishing and Communications at the University of Melbourne, where she is a news subeditor for Farrago Magazine and has made a substantial investment in sandwiches from DOC Delicatessen.

When she’s not at university, Kyra spends her time writing content for Mecca Brands and gets to channel her inner de Kooning with the latest beauty products to hit the shelves. Kyra is most inspired by The Row, Lemaire, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Grace Wales Bonner, Phoebe Philo and 90s Chanel power suits.

If this year’s runways are any indication, designers have found their muse in all things Greek. From the Aegean articulations of Chanel Cruise 2018, to Mary Katrantzou’s bold use of classical Greek art motifs and Valentino’s Spring collection inspired by myths and legends, this return to antiquity is testament to the very cyclical nature of fashion.

And if what goes around must come around, then the Hellenic Museum’s exhibition Haute Couture in Ancient Greece: The Spectacular Costumes of Ariadne and Helen of Troy as part of the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival’s Arts Program is a perfectly timed reminder of how history will always inform what we choose to wear.

The show, a celebration of Minoan and Mycenaean dress spanning from 2000 to 1200 BC, will feature an array of vibrant, elaborate garments reconstructed by American academic Dr. Bernice Jones and will provide great insight into what people wore in the Bronze Age.



It’s the first time the collection will be presented in Australia, right before it will travel to the National Archeological Museum of Athens - making this a huge coup for both the Hellenic Museum and Melbourne as a fashion capital.

But this is not to relegate these garments to a relic of the past. Instead, they are distinctly contemporary in design and provide compelling evidence of the extent to which the fashion trade was alive, even in the years BC.

“The colours are bold, the patterns are striking, the cut [and] layering is interesting,” said Sarah Craig, curator of the Hellenic Museum.

“I think that if people who are interested in fashion went back and had a look at what they were doing thousands of years ago, they would be surprised by the quality and by the fact that the industry that they are so engaged with was so well-loved even then”.

The costumes in the exhibition only make more apparent why we are seeing a resurgence of Grecian design qualities emerge in recent collections from prominent fashion houses.

“It’s a classic, kind of clean line, which I think is probably timeless - so often, you can reference that stuff back to Ancient Greece,” suggests Craig.



Haute Couture in Ancient Greece is the third collaboration between Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival and the Hellenic Museum, following the successes of their previous photography and jewellery installations.

The exhibition will reside at the museum from 2 March - 15 April, but both fashion lovers and history buffs alike should not miss the chance to celebrate its launch at the cocktail gala event. The evening will bring the ancient Aegean to life with frescoes and a runway show, imbuing the garments with the kind of movement, line and shape that a static display can never really achieve - making the VAMFF runway the perfect showcase.

Alongside free-flowing Greek wines, cocktails and canapés, the launch will include an introductory talk from Dr. Jones, who has contributed valuable research to the field of Minoan and Mycenaean textiles for over 30 years. But it hasn’t been easy bringing these ancient garments to life. It is a field with limited scholarship and few surviving artefacts left behind to study.

“It’s very difficult, just simply because it’s so fragmentary,” says Craig. “You’ve got Egypt, which has an amazing climate for preserving textiles, whereas Crete, not so much”.

Instead, conjecture has played a large part in replicating these costumes - though Craig is quick to remind us, “That is true of everything in archaeology and history”.

Dr. Jones undertook years of detailed analysis of glyptics, wall paintings and sculptures, developing a robust understanding of the design and proportions of the period. She was also able to find illuminating artefacts like loom weights and garment signs in Linear B texts, and from these made inferences about how the garments would have been constructed. Dr. Jones then painstakingly recreated over thirty costumes by hand, with the technical assistance of weaver Valerie Bealle.



The exhibition’s place in VAMFF’s Arts program is particularly important, given the tendency for fashion and textiles to be overlooked in the historical narratives of cultures, or their value as art downplayed.

But Haute Couture in Ancient Greece, Craig asserts, “repositions the Minoan clothing industry, the fashion and the dress back into the kind of artistic realm in which it should be”.

Haute Couture in Ancient Greece opens Friday 2 March at the Hellenic Museum. Haute Couture in Ancient Greece is a participant of the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival Arts Program 2018.

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