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Textile dreams from St Gallen

Some of the colourful fabrics at the exhibition (Jakob Schläpfer)

St Gallen is not a place that springs to mind when drawing up a list of the world’s fashion capitals.

But an exhibition at the National Museum in Zurich, entitled “Bling Bling – Textile Dreams from St Gallen”, may go some way towards correcting this.

Fabrics produced by the canton’s textile industry are sought-after by some of the biggest names in haute couture and turned into stunning catwalk creations.

Dresses made by the likes of Akris, Chanel, Romeo Gigli, Christian Lacroix, Paco Rabanne, Emanuel Ungaro and Vivienne Westwood adorn the exhibition.

Apart from their rich beauty, they all have one thing in common: they are made from fabrics produced by Jakob Schläpfer, one of St Gallen’s leading textile companies.

The close collaboration between the museum and Schläpfer has produced a visual feast showcasing the range of fabrics produced over the last 50 years.

Past to present

The exhibition is divided into three parts: the history of the textile industry in western Switzerland; the world of fabrics; and the world of haute couture.

“For us, it is important to connect past and present. And to explain the present, you have to look on what happened in the past,” Sigrid Pallmert, the curator of the Swiss National Museum, told swissinfo.

The opening section leads visitors from the beginning of the textile industry in the 12th century through to the present.

“After linen came cotton, after cotton came [the renowned St Gallen]
embroideries and afterwards haute couture,” explained Pallmert.

Boundless textile dreams

The “present” is illustrated by a huge collection of fabrics produced by Jakob Schläpfer since the early 1960s.

Originally rooted in the tradition of embroidery, the company started producing fabrics for fashion houses in the early 1960s, using new and innovative methods and materials.

In the middle of the room an assortment of artfully arranged haute couture fabrics spiral up onto a platform on the second floor.

Soft ambient music from small, opaque loudspeakers, hanging from the spiral, complements the visual effect.

“You see archive fabrics from the last 40 years up to the latest collections,” said project manager Ellen Schoner. “These fabrics, arranged in a spiral-like manner, are in perfect harmony with the sound architecture.”

Constant evolution

According to Schoner, the spiral represents the never-ending process of inventing new fabrics.

From the platform on the second floor, exhibiting fabrics from the most recent collections (2003/2004), visitors can look back on the historical section and ahead to the “ballroom” and the world of haute couture.

The 19 dresses on display in the ballroom pay homage to the inspiration, interpretation and creative process that turns textiles into works of art.

The dresses, using fabrics and materials mainly from Jakob Schläpfer, are all the work of renowned fashion houses and date from the last ten years.

“Christian Lacroix has given one to the museum as a gift, but all the other ones have been lent the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Chanel,” said Pallmert.

swissinfo, Katalin Fekete in Zurich

In brief

The Swiss National Museum in Zurich is staging an exhibition on Swiss fabrics.

The exhibition, entitled “Bling Bling – Textile Dreams from St Gallen”, runs until January 9, 2005.

The museum worked closely with Jakob Schläpfer, a leading St Gallen textile company, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

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