Exhibition concept and curator: Konstantina Hlaváčková
Exhibition design, videos: Pavel Mrkus
Graphic design: Štěpán Malovec, Kristina Ambrozová
Zika and Lida Ascher’s personal and professional story began in Prague just before World War II and continued in London and Paris, where they worked with the most famous artists of the day and where the most exclusive fashion houses used Ascher fabrics for their creations.
Czechoslovakia before World War II was a country with a highly developed textile industry and an extensive sales network, including two shops owned by Zikmund and Jindřich Ascher that sold silks not far from Wenceslas Square. The younger generation of the Ascher family included Zika (Zikmund) Ascher, who was born in 1910. In 1933 he and his older brother Josef opened their own shop selling textiles in the centre of Prague, and it soon became very popular. Zika Ascher was also a very successful Alpine skier. He represented Czechoslovakia in many international competitions, and in 1938 he won the Czechoslovak Grand Prix. The press dubbed him the “Mad Silkman” on account of his daredevil style on the slopes.
In February 1939 Zika married Lida (Ludmila) Tydlitátová, a charming young woman from a wealthy family in Prague. Just a few days before the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939, Lida and Zika left for Norway on their honeymoon. From there they went to London, which they made their new home. Zika joined the army, and in 1942 he and Lida founded a textile company that printed fabrics for women’s clothes. The high quality of its designs and printing guaranteed the company’s success right from the start.
During and shortly after the war Zika Ascher put a bold plan into action: he asked leading artists of the time – Henri Matisse, Henry Moore, André Derain, Cecil Beaton, Alexander Calder and many more – to come up with designs for luxurious silk scarves and fashion fabrics. Most of them agreed, resulting in a collection of approximately thirty wonderful silk scarves, the Ascher Squares, that helped launch Zika and Lida’s glittering career. The Squares were exhibited around the world and at the end of 1947, shortly before the communists seized power, they were shown at Mánes in Prague alongside printed textiles designed by Czech artists.
Zika and Lida continued working with famous artists for many more years, establishing good working relationships and personal friendships, as can be seen in their frequent correspondence. Artists and fashion designers valued Zika’s remarkable ability to flawlessly render their designs in fabric. Printed silks and cottons and various types of woollen fabrics from Ascher (London) Ltd. created a sensation around the world. Zika was also a great innovator of new textiles, and he became legendary for his revolutionary approach and the way he brought design and fine art together. Ascher fabrics were immensely popular from the 1940s to the 1980s and they frequently appeared in all the top fashion magazines, including Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. The most famous designers and fashion houses in France, Italy and Britain used Ascher fabrics in their collections: Christian Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga, Lanvin-Castillo, Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint Laurent, Alberto Fabiani, Ronald Paterson, Mary Quant, David Sassoon …
Lida Ascher died in London in 1983, followed by Zika nine years later. They were among the most illustrious Czechs and their work was celebrated around the world, but back home they were entirely forgotten.
The exhibition has been designed by the artist Pavel Mrkus, who works with large audiovisual installations.
Most of the exhibits have been lent by the Ascher Family Archive in the United States. Other items come from Manchester Art Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and Musée Matisse in Le Cateau Cambrésis in France.
The Museum of Decorative Arts and the Slovart publishing company have produced a book in Czech and English editions to accompany the exhibition.
Czech Television is making a documentary about Zika and Lida Ascher that will premiere in September 2019.
There will also be a project with Pavel Ivančic’s Studio of Fashion Design at the Academy of Arts, Architecture & Design in Prague, whose students will design outfits made with original Ascher fabrics.
“On hearing Zika Ascher’s life story, I knew at once that the British Embassy had to be part of the celebration of his achievements at u(p)m in this, our centenary year. Britain gave him a second chance when he was forced to leave his mother country. He paid us back handsomely, with a flowering of his talent there which produced some of the most stunning fabrics of the century and a great textile business, the legacy of which we now celebrate. Anglo-Czech creativity at its best. We are proud to support this magnificent exhibition, and the contemporary work of students of Pavel Ivancic’s design studio reinterpreting Ascher fabrics. This year the British Embassy is celebrating 100 years since its opening in Prague’s Thun Palace. The Embassy has supported the exhibition as part of its #STOLET campaign of cultural activities,” says Nick Archer, the British ambassador to the Czech Republic.