When one thinks of the women of ancient Greece, images of elegant ladies in flowing draped cloth is thrust to the forefront of the mind.

We have seen drape begin in classical times with the ancient Greeks, then the Romans and filter over to India and most of Asia.

“Fallen drape cloth is associated with classical times,” explains Paola Di Trocchio, Assistant Curator, International Fashion and Textiles, National Gallery of Victoria (NGV).

“Ancient Greeks worked out how to depict drape in marble, sculpture and that’s why this image is associated with ancient Greece and knowledge, class and status. They had the draped cloth on the sophisticated and anatomically correct body. They were doing it really well before anyone else.”

Di Trocchio, who has been with the NGV for over six years and curated the exhibition Remaking Fashion, talks about the challenges of curating an exhibition that has seen classicism morphed with contemporary clothing.

Her previous exhibition Remaking Fashion focused solely on contemporary fashion keeping the scope limited in relation to historical timelines but Drape covers the ancient world all the way to modern fashion.

“Drape is completely wide from classical Greek to the present day. This has been challenging for me to cover such a vast time period within 35 works in the exhibition. There’s a lot of jumping around and its challenging to tie them all together in this continued idea.”

The exhibition, which draws on works within the NGVs holdings but some key loans, also incorporates different mediums such as sculpture, decorative art and photography which allow the different sections of the gallery talk to each other in the one exhibition.

But, this also brings about another challenge for the curator as she needs to find a way to incorporate large mannequins to fit alongside a 15 centimetre decorative art piece.

The exhibition not only features classical Greek and Roman works but contemporary pieces from Gianni Versace, Balenciaga, Vivien Westwood and two fabulous white draped gowns worn by Kylie Minogue – one designed by Dolce & Gabbana and the other by Ungaro.

“One of the really clever pieces is designed by Christian Dior but made by Bergdorf Goodman,” enthuses Di Trocchio.

“In 1949, you had the very exaggerated new look silhouette with the narrow waist and the wide hip but what Dior does is uses a sharp, exaggerated pointed pocketed edge to get the wide hip at the side and on the opposite side you have a sweep of fabric and the train comes out of the front as opposed to the back.

It is all very dramatic but also very balanced. It has a diagonal panel through the front and all the drape and drama is on the side which is in line with the new look silhouette.”
Drape is associated with elegance, wealth, prestige and in some cases divinity, it has a classical relationship and is worn in a timeless, carefree and comfortable way that is complementary to the body.

Every revival since classical times and reference since has always had this underlying tone of draped cloth and very elevated artistic ideas.
“Drape is simply wrapping cloth around the body,” explains Di Trochhio in lay terms.

“There are lots of different ways of doing that and that’s what the exhibition investigates.

Drape tends to be more fluid and organic but to make drape work properly in fashion it does need to be shaped and to be thought out and constructed in a thoughtful way that’s considerate of the body but also the way that the cloth moves.

Tailoring, in opposition, is not always respecting the nature and character of the cloth, its fighting against and almost beating it into submission where as drape is more about embracing the cloth.

“Wearing animal skins was one of the original forms of draped cloth as humans, before they could weave, would let animal skins literally drape and fall over their bodies. Over time, and as they learnt to weave cloth, they valued it to such a high level they didn’t cut into the cloth and would weave a piece of cloth around their body.
Drape is also synonymous with a range of cultures.

We have seen drape begin in classical times with the ancient Greeks, then the Romans and filter over to India and most of Asia.

It can be seen all over the world in some shape or form and is especially prominent in many cultures’ traditional and religious dress.
So how did such a classical style of fashion seep its way into modern time?

“In the 17th, 18th and the 19th centuries, there are classical revivals but the way they are represented in fashion is by adding drapery to the outside of dresses so the use of shawls, flowing sleeve,” explains Di Trocchio.

“Where as in the 20th century, its the first time the female body is free from the corset so its the first time fashion designers can interpret drape the way the Grecians would have worn.”

Drape: Classical Mode to Contemporary Dress will be on display in the Myer Fashion and Textiles Gallery at NGV International, St Kilda road from 2 December 2009 to 27 June 2010. NGV international is open from 10am -5pm and closed Tuesdays. Admission to this exhibition is free.