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A cross for every occasion

You mean you haven't got one? Keystone

The Swiss cross – the national emblem – has become a something of a fashion item, appearing in logos, on t-shirts and other must-have accessories.

This content was published on October 15, 2004 - 12:33

Its popularity is the subject of an exhibition in the capital, Bern, which asks if the cross’s trendiness is due to a surge of patriotism or whether firms are just cashing in.

The exhibition, entitled “White on Red – United Colours of Switzerland”, has just opened at the Museum of Communication in Bern.

Taking the form of a shopping mall, the display is divided into four broad sections – public service, food, sport and lifestyle. The aim of the exhibition is to show how the national emblem of a white cross on a red background has become a part of everyday life.

“[The cross] was traditionally used as a coat of arms for the Swiss nation, but for about two to four years now it’s being used in new contexts,” Jakob Messerli, the museum’s director, told swissinfo.

“If you look in the streets, people are wearing t-shirts with the Swiss flag on it or they have handbags with the cross on it.”

Patriotic

Some observers have pointed to the cross’s popularity as evidence that the Swiss are becoming more patriotic and are less embarrassed by overt displays of national symbols.

Messerli says there may be some truth in the suggestion but that this “new patriotism” is far more complex than the nationalism of far-right groups, who also use the cross.

“The use of the flag has a lot to do with the relation of the population towards a country but this is a very complex relationship,” said Messerli.

“When a person wears a t-shirt with a Swiss flag it does not necessarily mean that this person is being patriotic - maybe it's just a gag, a fashion, and for many young people it means that you belong to a group,” he added.

Taking the biscuit

Many manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon and the distinctive cross can now be found on watches, biscuits and confectionary in what has been called the commercial branding of the country.

Messerli says many firms, such as the well-known biscuit maker, Kambly, have incorporated the cross into their logo over the past few years.

He added that this was a way of stating the origin of a product in an increasingly globalised environment – Kambley’s packaging previously only mentioned that its biscuits were from the Emmental region.

The use of the cross also has the effect of emphasising typically “Swiss” values such as quality and precision which are associated with the country.

“[This can be] transported on to new products: for example there is an Aloe Vera dairy drink that has a Swiss flag on it,” Messerli told swissinfo.

Conveying values

“Aloe Vera is not a Swiss plant but companies use the cross in their marketing and they convey values through it, that may or may not actually be part of the product,” he added.

The Switzerland brand is the underlying theme of the exhibition, which focuses more on the commercial side of the Swiss cross and less on its political and historical aspects.

Apart from considering lifestyle and food products, the display also looks at how public institutions, such as the Federal government and the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, use the Swiss cross in their logos.

It notes that former state-owned companies such as the Post Office, have changed the way in which they use the cross – in the Post Office’s case by reducing the size and shape of the cross – as they have become more commercial.

Sport also features heavily in the exhibition. One section is devoted to how Alinghi became a national brand and its sailors national heroes after winning the America’s Cup last year. This was despite the fact that sailing is not a traditional Swiss sport and only a quarter of the crew on board were actually Swiss.

The exhibition runs until August 28, 2005.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

In brief

“White on Red – United Colours of Switzerland” has just opened at the Museum of Communication in Bern.

It aims to show how the national emblem has become a part of everyday life.

The cross's popularity has prompted companies to put the image on watches, biscuits and confectionary.

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