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Flexibility and Design. A History of Technology and Fashion in the Swiss Silk Industry, 1880-1914

English title Flexibility and Design. A History of Technology and Fashion in the Swiss Silk Industry, 1880-1914
Applicant Schwarzenbach Alexis
Number 159839
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Hochschule Luzern - Design & Kunst Ressort Forschung & Entwicklung
Institution of higher education Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts - HSLU
Main discipline General history (without pre-and early history)
Start/End 01.04.2016 - 31.03.2020
Approved amount 178'918.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
General history (without pre-and early history)
Arts

Keywords (6)

Design Processes; Silk Industry; 19th century; Luxury consumer goods; Switzerland; History of Design

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Um 1900 war die Zürcher Seidenindustrie als Produzentin hochwertiger Textilien eine der erfolgreichsten Branchen der Schweizer Wirtschaft. In Betrieben im In- und Ausland wurden jährlich mindestens zwei neue Kollektionen entwickelt, die bei modebewussten Kunden von New York bis nach St. Petersburg grossen Anklang fanden. Das Projekt untersucht das Zusammenspiel von Technik, Mode und Design in einem wenig erforschten Kapitel der schweizerischen Wirtschaftsgeschichte.
Lay summary

Inhalt und Ziel des Forschungsprojekts

Mit der Globalisierung der Handelsbeziehungen und der Etablierung eines kommerziell organisierten Modesystems war es für Produzenten von Seidenstoffen von zentraler Bedeutung, Modetrends wie auch kulturell verschiedene Geschmackstraditionen zu antizipieren und zeit- und marktgerecht umzusetzen. Die Archivbestände der Zürcher Seidenindustrie zeigen, dass Flexibilität im Designprozess ein wichtiger Erfolgsfaktor war. Umfangreiche Textilarchive dienten nicht nur der Musterdokumentation, dem Marketing und der Designinspiration. Sie funktionierten auch als Wissens- und Kommunikationsmedien und begünstigen die rasche und zielgruppengerechte Umsetzung neuer Kollektionen. Geschäftsdokumente zeigen, dass die Fabrikanten von Seidenstoffen komplexe Beziehungsnetze mit Dienstleistenden aus dem Rohstoffhandel, der Färberei, dem Marketing wie auch mit Freelance Designern unterhielten.  

Wissenschaftlicher und gesellschaftlicher Kontext

Das Projekt ist einem design- und technikhistorischen Ansatz verpflichtet. Es untersucht die Rolle von Prozessen und Akteuren, Instrumenten und Verfahren, Orten und Diskursen,  die es der Schweizer Seidenindustrie ermöglichten, mit erfolgreichen Stoffprodukten und modeaffinen Dessins auf den transnationalen Luxusmärkten des ausgehenden 19. Jahrhunderts präsent zu sein.

 

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 19.05.2015

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
In einem Musterbuch lesen. Die Verwaltung des industriellen Textildesigns in der Zürcher Seidenindustrie um 1900
RuisingerDenise (2019), In einem Musterbuch lesen. Die Verwaltung des industriellen Textildesigns in der Zürcher Seidenindustrie um 1900, in Fontaine Alexandre, Hoenig Bianca, Gillabert Matthieu (ed.), Chronos, Zürich, 26(1), 161-172.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
The Cost of Design. 2019 Design History Society Conference Talk given at a conference Experts of design (technology) 06.09.2019 Newcastle upon Tyne, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Ruisinger Denise;
Von Menschen und Maschinen. Interdisziplinäre Perspektiven auf das Verhältnis von Gesellschaft und Technik in Vergangenheit, Gegenwart und Zukunft (3. INSIST-Nachwuchstagung) Talk given at a conference Garanten einer goldenen Zukunft? Chemie, Elektrizität und Maschinenbau in einer Zukunftsvision von 1905 06.10.2018 Karlsruhe, Germany Ruisinger Denise;
A universe of patterns. Pattern books in the industrial context of the 19th and 20th century Talk given at a conference Between filing cabinet and design library. Pattern book practice in the Zurich silk industry, 1880-1914 10.03.2018 St. Gallen, Switzerland Ruisinger Denise;
Farben der Technik - Technik der Farben (40. Technikgeschichtliche Tagung der Eisenbibliothek) Talk given at a conference Tipping the scales through colour. Textile design and colour standardization in the Zurich silk industry, 1880 - 1914 18.11.2017 Schlatt, Switzerland Ruisinger Denise;
Netzwerk Mode Textil (nmt) Spring School 2017 Talk given at a conference Farbenfiasko und brillante Verkäufe. Designprozesse in der Zürcher Seidenindustrie 1850 – 1914 25.05.2017 Berlin, Germany Ruisinger Denise;


Knowledge transfer events



Self-organised

Title Date Place
Textile Time Travelling 22.05.2017 Luzern, Switzerland

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Media relations: print media, online media How silk was brought to the masses EU Research International 2019
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) Musterbücher - Vielfalt zwischen zwei Buchdeckeln www.silkmemory.ch International 2019

Abstract

Flexibility and DesignA History of Technology and Fashion in the Swiss Silk Industry, 1880-1914Summary of the research plan This research project analyses design processes in the Swiss silk industry from 1880 to 1914 and is a contribution to the international history of design. While the latter has so far primarily been practised within the frameworks of art and cultural history, this project argues that design processes have much to gain from being analysed within the framework of the history of technology. Understood to be a process rather than a product, design shaped all stages of production - from research and development to distribution and marketing - of the fashionable textiles which Swiss companies made for markets around the globe, from New York to St. Petersburg. In the second half of the long 19th century the silk industry, specialising in broad dress fabrics and based in the region around Lake Zurich, became one of the largest sectors of the Swiss economy with an annual turnover of more than 100 million francs. This project argues that this growth was due not only to the price but also to the design of the silks produced. Being the most expensive and luxurious of all traditional fibres, silk was much more linked to high fashion and conspicuous consumption than were cotton, linen or wool. And just as in this period Paris-based high fashion not only established itself as a global trendsetter but also evolved ever more rapidly and unpredictably, only manufacturers who were able to create textiles in line with the latest fashions could hope to succeed. The archives of the Zurich silk industry show that the flexibility of the design process was the key to successful manufacturing. On the one hand, extensive textile archives not only served manufacturers as references, marketing tools and a source of inspiration for new designs. They also contained a wealth of information and know-how, thus enabling the rapid (re-)creation or adaptation of any type of textile or pattern - no matter how innovative the design was or how long it had been out of fashion. Written records, on the other hand, not only reveal a complex network linking factory owners to external service providers such as dyers, marketing experts, freelance designers and commodity traders; they also show that confidence was derived from a high degree of flexibility in the design process because this allowed for quick reactions to changing international fashions.The empirical base for this research project is excellent. The archives of more than a dozen Zurich silk manufacturers will become available to historical research from 2015 onwards. While the written sources go to the State Archives of the Canton of Zurich, the textiles will be integrated into the Swiss National Museum. Analysing these sources within the framework of the history of technology, this research project scrutinises the role of actors, tools, places and discourses shaping the very processes by which the Swiss silk industry arrived at designs fit for a global luxury market.
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