The Mad Silkman: Zika & Lida Ascher, Textiles and Fashion

  • NEW YORK, New York
  • /
  • March 23, 2022

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Screen-printed Giselle silk crepe, 1969. © Peter Archer. Photo © The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, Ondřej Kocourek
Ascher Family Archive
Evening Dress, Vanessa for Abelann, 1970, Screen-printed Byblos dégradé on Giselle silk crepe. Fabric © Peter Ascher
Ascher Family Archive

Czech Center New York in collaboration with UPM, The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague presents “Mad Silkman: Zika & Lida Ascher Textiles and Fashion,” the first U.S. exhibition focused on the life and work of Zika and Lida Ascher, a husband-and-wife duo who left Czechoslovakia before the outbreak of WW2 and built a textile empire in the UnitedKingdom, which supplied fabrics to the international fashion industry. The exhibition will be on view March 25-May 20, 2022.

The opening reception, followed by a screening of a documentary “Mad Silkman” (Dir. Hedvika Hlaváčková, 2020, 51 min), will take place on Thursday, March 24, 6:30 – 9 PM.

Featuring more than fifty original patterns, textile samples, photos, drawings and videos, “Mad Silkman” is a scaled down version of UPM’s 2019 exhibition curated by Konstantina Hlaváčková, head of the Museum’s Textile and Fashion Collection. Most items in the exhibition have been generously lent by the the Ascher Family Archive in the United States.

Zika (Zikmund) Ascher was born in Prague in 1910 into a family of Jewish textile businessmen, opening a popular textile shop with his brother, Josef at the age of 22. A successful Alpine skier, he represented Czechoslovakia in many international competitions, earning a moniker “Mad Silkman” for his daredevil style on the slopes. He married Lida (Ludmila) Tydlitátová in 1939 and left for a Scandinavian honeymoon just a few days before the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia. The couple found their way from Norway to London making it their new home, and, in 1942, founding a textile company Ascher (London) Ltd that printed fabrics for women’s clothes.

In addition to his own lively and unique designs, Zika approached leading artists of the time—Henri Matisse, Henry Moore, André Derain, Cecil Beaton, Alexander Calder, among others—to design prints for a collection of scarves and fashion fabrics to brighten up the dull postwar British wardrobe. Most agreed, resulting in a collection of approximately thirty extraordinary silk scarves, “the Ascher Squares,” which were soon recognized all over the world helping launch Zika and Lida’s glittering career. Ascher fabrics were immensely popular from the 1940s to the 1980s, frequently appearing in top fashion magazines, and used by European fashion houses including Christian Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga, Lanvin-Castillo, Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint Laurent, Alberto Fabiani, Ronald Paterson, Mary Quant, David Sassoon.

Insect Wings and Ovals, 1947, Henry Moore, screen-printed rayon. © Peter Ascher, Ascher Family Archive. Photo © The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, Ondřej Kocourek

Lida Ascher died in London in 1983, followed by Zika nine years later. The illustrious Czech couple has been subject of a book “Mad Silkman: Textiles & Fashion” (Slovart Publishing, 2019) and a documentary.

The Gallery is open Monday to Friday 10:00 AM -6:00 PM
Czech Center New York / 321 E 73rd Street.

UPM, The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, is place for innovative learning that facilitates the understanding of the significance of objects of decorative arts and design, in combination with architecture and other art disciplines. The museum aspires to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life and the preservation of creativity in an increasingly uniform environment and to create a forthcoming space for the engagement of the public and the discussion of the cultural milieu and the world that surrounds us.

Czech Center New York
321 E 73rd Street
New York, New York

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