The Design Library recently made fashionista hearts beat faster when they announced that their acquisition from the Abraham silk archives was now ready for viewing. Abraham was a Swiss silk company founded in 1878 by Jakob Abraham but later pushed into the fashion history books by the company's one-time apprenctice, Gustav Zumsteg. After spending part of the war in Paris, where his 1930s mingling included Georges Braque, Marc Chagall and Alberto Giacometti and night school meant art history classes at the Louvre, Zumsteg returned to Zurich and was made a partner in Abraham. Between 1943 and 1980, Zumsteg grew the company from $1.7 million to $26 million. How? "There are things in the air," he once explained about his secret, "and we try to capture them...I feel instinctively what is happening in fashion; it's a process that almost never stops."
Meaning: his knack for knowing when the time was right for lush florals, beautiful butterflies, bold graphics and artistic abstract patterns made Abraham part of every Parisian A-list collection. Balenciaga and Chanel were friends, Christian Dior a steady customer, Givenchy a really steady customer and the "great joy" of his career - collaborating and becoming lifelong friends with Dior's one-time assistant Yves Saint Laurent. "Gustav Zumsteg was my ally, my friend and my collaborator for some 45 years, I used his fabric in my most beautiful dresses," noted YSL when Zumsteg passed away. "His talent was a never-ending source of inspiration. I owe him many unforgettable moments."
The celeb factor never hurts, either, given how much Abraham Audrey Hepburn was photographed in when she wore Givenchy (which was, like, all the time) and Catherine Deneuve in YSL (top). As to why Zumsteg and/or Abraham was Soie Pirate, as the exhibition devoted to the brand in 2007 at the Swiss National Museum was titled, who knows. But when someone not only calls you a pirate but devotes an entire museum show to you as a result, you say thankyou and go with it.
The Design Museum is a prime example of the FOLKSPUN Fashion Tribe at work, preserving the best in the history of fashion, textiles and all things artisanal in order for future generations to enjoy. Here's the podcast I recorded about this:
Music: Acid Jazz by Kevin MacLeod, Incompetech.com
- Lesley Scott