Our journey
How our history began
The CMLE begins its operations on 8th March 1988, when it is opened by the Minister of Culture at the time, Melina Merkouri.

In reality, though, it is an offshoot of the historic journey of the Lykeion ton Ellinidon, and its creation is due to the visionary thought of the Lykeion’s founder, Callirhoe Parren, and her stated intention, as early as the start of the 20th century, to create “a type of ethnographic museum to complement the official state one”.

8th March 1988. Melina Merkouri, then the Minister of Culture, cuts the ribbon at the opening of the Museum. CMLE archive.
8th March 1988. Melina Merkouri, then the Minister of Culture, cuts the ribbon at the opening of the Museum. CMLE archive.

The gathering of the collection, which started in the early years of the Lykeion’s operation, is inextricably linked to the first official public appearances of the Lykeion ton Ellinidon at the Panathinaikon Stadium. 

Responding to Parren’s call, many families and public bodies around Greece, such as the General Administration of the Aegean Islands, as well as organisations representing Hellenism more widely, such as the Council of Megisteoi, offered costumes they owned as a loan, so that they could be presented in the grand celebrations in the Stadium. Some of these costumes were consequently donated, while others were purchased, and they became the core of the costume collection of the Lykeion ton Ellinidon.

Letter of the General Administration of the Aegean Islands to LtE President Callirhoe Parren. 31st May 1914. Historical Archives of the Lykeion ton Ellinidon.
Letter of the General Administration of the Aegean Islands to LtE President Callirhoe Parren. 31st May 1914. Historical Archives of the Lykeion ton Ellinidon.
Letter of the General Administration of the Aegean Islands to LtE President Callirhoe Parren. 31st May 1914. Historical Archives of the Lykeion ton Ellinidon.
Letter of the Mayor of Megisteoi to LtE President Callirhoe Parren. 18th June 1914. Historical Archives of the Lykeion ton Ellinidon.
Letter of the Mayor of Megisteoi to LtE President Callirhoe Parren. 18th June 1914. Historical Archives of the Lykeion ton Ellinidon.
Letter of the Mayor of Megisteoi to LtE President Callirhoe Parren. 18th June 1914. Historical Archives of the Lykeion ton Ellinidon.

On the eve of World War II, the Lykeion ton Ellinidon takes care of its collections by securing its most valuable costumes in the vaults of the banks Ioniki and Laiki. The objects return to the Lykeion in 1941, when the threat of bombing has passed.

Alexandra Wassenhoven, the Ephor of the LtE Wardrobe, in an “Amalia”-type costume.
Alexandra Wassenhoven, the Ephor of the LtE Wardrobe, in an “Amalia”-type costume.

Over the following years, the collection is enhanced by numerous donations and purchases, but its collection policy remains tied to the activities of the Section of National Dances and specifically with the performances of the Lykeion ton Ellinidon’s Folk Dance Group both in Greece and abroad.

But later on, those outfits were to live the life of a “museum collection”. In 1963, Alexandra Wassenhoven, then the Ephor of the Lykeion ton Ellinidon’s Wardrobe, broached the issue of preserving the costumes from the wear and tear caused by their use in dance performances. As a result, the Lykeion ton Ellinidon gradually retired them from use and replaced them with copies.

The LtE’s costume collection was originally housed in its headquarters at 14 Dimokritou Street in Kolonaki, until its rapid expansion led to its transfer, in 1987, to a building at 7 Dimokritou Street, which had been bought in November 1984. 

The purchase of the building was partially funded by the Ministry of Culture. Thus the collection acquired its own permanent home, which is known today as the Costume Museum of the Lykeion ton Ellinidon.

The LtE Wardrobe premises at 14 Dimokritou Street. LtE Bulletin, 1963.
The LtE Wardrobe premises at 14 Dimokritou Street. LtE Bulletin, 1963.

Notable points in the CMLE’s journey

On 8th March 1988, International Women’s Day, the CMLE officially opens to the public as a space for regular exhibitions, thus marking the successful conclusion of a long-term effort to create a museum-depository of the Lykeion ton Ellinidon’s costume collection.

In her opening speech, Melina Merkouri, then the Minister of Culture, stated:

The Museum of the History of National Costumes comes to fill a gap in the Greek museum landscape.

“Opening of the Museum of History and National Costumes of the Lykeion ton Ellinidon. The Museum entrance and the guard of honour for the official welcome by two generations.” Sketch by Elli Solomonidi-Balanou, 1988. Donated by Elli Solomonidi-Balanou (2018).
“Opening of the Museum of History and National Costumes of the Lykeion ton Ellinidon. The Museum entrance and the guard of honour for the official welcome by two generations.” Sketch by Elli Solomonidi-Balanou, 1988. Donated by Elli Solomonidi-Balanou (2018).

The official start of operations was marked with the temporary exhibition “The evolution of the Greek costume”, curated by costume and set designer Ioanna Papantoniou, who took on the supervision of the Museum and the management of the collection.

View of the first temporary exhibition, “The evolution of Greek costume”. Sketch by Elli Solomonidi-Balanou, 1988. Donated by Elli Solomonidi-Balanou (2018).
View of the first temporary exhibition, “The evolution of Greek costume”. Sketch by Elli Solomonidi-Balanou, 1988. Donated by Elli Solomonidi-Balanou (2018).

In 1990, the publication of annual tabletop calendars with costuming topics is added to the CMLE’s activities. The first calendar was a tribute to the headdresses of modern Greece. Over the following years, the calendars came to function in lieu of catalogues for the regular exhibitions hosted by the Museum.

Cover of the 2008 LtE Calendar, with the theme “Greek Costume and Greek Painters”.
Cover of the 2008 LtE Calendar, with the theme “Greek Costume and Greek Painters”.

In 1997, the CMLE becomes a regular member of the International Council of Museums (ICOM).

In 2007, the CMLE creates its digital depository, providing open remote access for all to more than 4,000 items in its collections.

The work was completed as part of the programme “Information Society”, MEASURE 1.3 – DOCUMENTATION, MANAGEMENT AND PROMOTION OF THE GREEK CULTURAL HERITAGE. 

A large number of the unique objects kept in the Museum have been digitised. Explore them.

In 2010, the Directorate of Conservation of Ancient and Modern Monuments of the Ministry of Culture responds to a request from the CMLE, and approves a study for the conservation of 77 objects from its collections, after a survey performed on a total of 343 objects.

The survey involved recording the condition the items were preserved in, and collecting samples via transmitted light microscopy.

Cover of the report on the conservation of objects from the CMLE collections, by the Directorate of Conservation of Ancient and Modern Monuments and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (2010).
Cover of the report on the conservation of objects from the CMLE collections, by the Directorate of Conservation of Ancient and Modern Monuments and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (2010).

In 2018, the CMLE reaches 30 years of operation, and celebrates the anniversary by honouring its donors with a special event and a retrospective exhibition of representative objects donated to the museum.

Spread of a brochure with the CMLE Donors, created for the 30th anniversary of the museum’s operation (1988–2018).
Spread of a brochure with the CMLE Donors, created for the 30th anniversary of the museum’s operation (1988–2018).

In 2021, the CMLE participates in celebrations for the bicentennary of the 1821 Revolution, with the exhibition “A thousand stories stitched on a piece of cloth. 1821-2021”, which is the first exhibition developed online to allow the Museum to maintain contact with its public during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arranged in 12 themes, each of which contains video works by contemporary visual artists, the exhibition was presented as a work in progress, while selected thematic units were also developed in physical spaces as an extension of their online versions.

View of the exhibition space for “18.21m2. The war in the salons.” Photo: Studio Kominis.
View of the exhibition space for “18.21m2. The war in the salons.” Photo: Studio Kominis.
Visit the website of the Exhibition "A thousand stories stitched on a piece of cloth. 1821-2021"

In 2022, the Museum of the History of the Greek Costume of the Lykeion ton Ellinidon was renamed as Costume Museum of the Lykeion ton Ellinidon (CMLE), marking the beginning of a new era for its identity and the re-evaluation of its previous collection practices.

The new abbreviation (CMLE), combines "M" for Museum and "LE" for Lykeion ton Ellinidon with the letter "C" for Costume - a word as complex, multifaceted and open as the fields it describes.