Antiquity’s Influence on Cutting-Edge Runway

Photo: courtesy of Vogue

Antiquity’s Influence on Cutting-Edge Runway

By Anna Fighera


Most accept classical influence as the sort which informs our present philosophical, political and legal fields. What would modern law, policy, and philosophy be without the guidance and inspiration of ancient thinkers? Despite acknowledgement of such relevance, many think classical influence ends there. Certain fields seem to require futuristic vision — persistent escape of the past and present — in order to progress and stay relevant. Fashion, like technology, is known for ‘staying ahead of its time,’ as if it has created its very own calendar (much like Julius Caesar did in 45 BC!). However visionary fashion might seem, it appears that looking to the past has become the lens of fashion’s future.

Despite what we might assume, the garb of antiquity is not so primitive in its nature. In fact, the clothing of ancient Rome can be seen as some of our earliest uses of cloth and design for self-expression, signifying a change in the relationship between fashion and function. Togas were certainly commonplace dress — so much so that a theatrical style called the togata was created, meaning the ‘drama of the household.’ However ubiquitous, this fashion lent itself to distinctions in social standing, designed or colored in such a way so as to signify the mark of a young man (toga virilis), a senator (toga praetexta) or a recently victorious high official (toga picta). What we ought to make note of is the history of dressing to express; something begun by our ancestors which has only strengthened as an outlet of human creativity and personality. As such, we see classical influence not only in more modern fashion, but in the essence of fashion itself.

Zara, a popular international fashion brand, debuted its 2020 Spring/Summer Men’s Collection in an ad campaign directed by Fabien Baron. The short film, approximately three minutes long, is dissected into three acts. Act One Scene Three is entitled “the Trojan Horse,” an homage to one of the most enduring events of ancient history: the Trojan War. While an endless list of epic poems and literature has preserved the details of this war, one detail seems to have captured the attention of readers and listeners for centuries as well as Fabien Baron: the gifted, large wooden horse pushed into the gates of Troy by the Greeks, who sneakily lay inside the belly, preparing to attack after the Trojans had become drunk off gifted wine. Baron’s representation has the horse as a platform stage, elevated by four legs with wheels and adorned with wires, which the male models pull in order to parallel the movement of the horse necessary for its entry into Troy. While his homage was swift (approximately twenty-seconds), it nevertheless reflects the enduring prevalence and inspiration of antiquity in seemingly modern settings.

While Zara may have married antiquity and modernity in a private, subtle ceremony, Dolce and Gabbana’s Alta Moda Autumn/Winter 2019 Couture Collection married in the most fitting arrangement: a big, fat Greek wedding. The collection was based entirely on Greek mythology, naming each piece after a Greek god or goddess. No article of clothing was free of either arrows, cherubs, columns or gold. The fashion show for this collection took place in the Temple of Concordia, an ancient Greek temple constructed in 430 BC in Agrigento, a town in southern Sicily. Harpists, dressed as vestal virgins, initiated the event, and spectators looked on as models, now gods and goddesses, walked through the Temple which was then contrasted against a pink sunset. Through the usage of classical inspiration, Dolce and Gabbana was able to travel time, and reproduce the splendor and grandeur of Greek mythology, bringing gods to the runway.

If one were to conjure up examples of the ancient influence on modern fashion, nudity or purposefully placed fig leaves might first come to mind. Such examples would not be wrong, necessarily, but they point to society’s tendency to bypass the omnipresence of ancient influence in favor of barbaric stereotypes. The existence of such inspiration is not exhibited solely by the examples presented above: asymmetrical and high-low skirts, toga-styled dresses, and sandals can all be inextricably linked back to ancient Greek and Roman style. Though it seems unlikely in a world increasingly reliant on and seeking out ‘the new,’ the old — even the ancient — remains a thought in every discussion and every creation whether or not it is recognized or acted upon.


Anna Fighera (College ’22) is student at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Moral and Political Philosophy and minoring in Classical Studies.