The haute couture collection of Eva Maria Hatschek on display in the central exhibition in the Temporary Fashion Museum is maintained by Rosmarie Amacher, a couturier from Zurich who began collecting textiles at an early age.
Five years ago Rosmarie Amacher received a telephone call from a lawyer who was managing the estate of a woman who had left behind a vast collection of clothes. Did she want to see it? ‘We went to see it and were amazed. Her apartment was filled with stacks of boxes, the same boxes you can see now in Het Nieuwe Instituut. The cellar and a warehouse outside Zurich also contained hundreds of large and small boxes filled with dresses, hats, shoes, bags and other accessories. The items on show in the Temporary Fashion Museum constitute only a third of Mrs Hatschek’s total collection.’
‘We’ve never seen the dresses look as beautiful as they do here in the exhibition!
Until now we haven’t had an opportunity to inspect the collection as a whole. Now for the first time we’ve been able to go through the boxes carefully to make an inventory and make a selection for this exhibition.’
Eva Maria Hatschek (1924–2010) was the wife of an important Swiss industrialist. She bought haute couture throughout her life. ‘The first dresses are from 1947,’ explains Amacher. ‘From the late 1960s to the end of the 1980s she kept records of her acquisitions, which are also displayed in the exhibition. ‘They contain details of which pieces she bought from Parisian fashion houses, which pieces she had made in Switzerland and which shoes, hats and gloves she bought to accessorise them. She went to the best couturiers so the clothing is of the highest quality in terms of craftsmanship.’ What makes the collection especially interesting, Amacher explains, is the fact that Mrs Hatschek never threw anything away so that the collection now comprises some seventeen hundred pieces.
‘She kept everything, even her stockings, underwear, dressing gowns and petticoats. We have calculated that she had an average of twenty pieces made each year, which isn’t so many after all.’
Even more remarkable is the fact that most of the pieces have been worn only a single time or never at all. She was apparently more interested in the process of looking, trying items on, deliberating and selecting: like a true collector. And although Mrs Hatschek undoubtedly must have had a great love of fashion, no fashion magazines or books were found in her apartment. She was advised by her Swiss couturier, who made some of the dresses following patterns supplied by Paris-based fashion houses: a common practice at the time. ‘Such a couturier was a rich woman’s best friend’, explains Amacher.
How the Swiss Textile Collection came about
It was no coincidence that Amacher received the call from the Hatschek family’s lawyer. In addition to being a couturier with her own label – à ma chère – she is also the founder of the Swiss Textile Collection. She began collecting textiles at a young age, she explains:
‘I have always aspired to a high level of craftsmanship and had an interest in materials and techniques.’ At a certain point she was asked to preserve the textile archive of Abraham, one of the great Swiss manufacturers that supplied silk, lace and embroidered fabrics to fashion houses such as Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent. Swiss textile manufacturers have long been recognised for their high standards and have supplied the famous fashion houses in Paris and Milan for many decades. After taking charge of the Abraham archive, Amacher decided to professionalise her collection and founded the Swiss Textile Collection. ‘I began the collection out of personal interest but eventually I wanted to give it a more constructive form.’
Amacher clearly cherishes her craft. She talks about her profession in loving and enthusiastic terms and emphasises that she wants young people to be able to study the collection so that they can apply their knowledge of the techniques and materials to their own practice. She calls the collection ‘prêt-à-toucher’: ready to touch. Not for fancy dress parties but for educational purposes. The pieces may be touched in order to study the materials, the embroidery, how the pieces have been finished on the inside, etc. ‘The collection provides a wealth of information about materials, techniques and finishes. But because it is so complete you can also see precisely how fashion changed over the years: which colours, forms, details and materials were in fashion at a particular time.’
The Swiss Textile Collection recently moved into a large space, thanks to a sponsor who charges a low rent, where parts of the collection can be exhibited and, most importantly, where it can be studied. Amacher wants the collection to be digitised so that all the pieces are properly described and documented. But that will require substantial funds, which she is still trying to raise. At the end of our conversation, she emphasises once more the wealth of information contained within the collection:
‘Each dress tells a story. Not through the materials used but through the style and the colour. The collection as a whole is a rich source of information. We have the patterns, the toiles, notes, we have the materials of all the steps in the process of making and acquiring every part of the collection. It is like a puzzle: the whole of twentieth-century fashion history comes together in this collection.’
Article Lotte Haagsma, translation Gerard Forde