Swiss Lace & My Grandpère

My father’s father, Maximilian Oscar Zürcher, my grandfather, imported Swiss lace to all the Couture Houses in Paris. Originally from Teufen, Switzerland, he moved to Paris where he and his wife raised my father, who was born in 1919 and my Aunt Jeanne. This was the extent of my knowledge regarding my grandfather. And then one of my patrons on Patreon asked if I’d demonstrate working with vintage lace for our monthly livestream. As my eldest brother had sent me some of my grandpère’s lace years ago, I pulled some out and along with it, came upon a sketch book that I’d not spent much time looking at.

And inside was a treasure trove of beautiful sketches that he had done.

When I realized that these sketches were my grandfather’s I was both proud and astonished. How was it that this book had been sitting on a shelf along with dozens of samples of the beautiful Swiss Lace he imported and yet I never realized he also designed and was an artist?!

A few samples of the Swiss Lace he imported.

And then I remembered that my Aunt Jeanne, my father’s only sibling who lived in Paris until her death, had given me a photo album filled with photos of Grandfather’s lace used by the fashion houses in Paris, where he also lived and where my father and his sister grew up.

Grandfather’s lace used by Christian Dior
Nina Ricci – Spring 1957
Schiaparelli
Schiaparelli
Robert Pignet

Almost all the photographs were marked on the back with the designer. A few even had other notations in French: the year, the model and where they were. And then I came upon this watercolor drawing.

Lanvin Watercolor Sketch

As I looked through the photographs it was like stepping back in time…

Mme de Salis: 1952
1932
1929
1924
1910
1904

I haven’t tried to translate all the writing, most of it is in either French or German or maybe even Swiss German, I can’t tell, and the handwritten script is difficult for me to decipher, still it’s something I’d love to do so that I could read what he wrote.

I cannot describe the feelings that are coming up after seeing all of this. When I was at Parsons, I knew fairly quickly that fashion design was not for me. At the time I felt that I had somehow failed. Here we had spent a small fortune getting me through college, and yet I knew I didn’t have it in me to devote the rest of my life to fashion design. But there was something about fabric, threads, fiber that continued to call to me. I began designing hand knits, I ventured off into designing fine jewelry, but I always felt the pull to return to fiber of some kind. Finding all of these things from my grandfather, a man I never knew as he died before I was born, has been nothing short of astonishing. It feels as though things make more sense. Could it be that this man whom I knew nothing about, my father rarely spoke of him, had never-the-less influenced me? Is there some genetic component to what one feels drawn to? Who knows? Regardless, I am incredibly grateful to have these small treasures that were once his.

27 thoughts on “Swiss Lace & My Grandpère

  1. Ariane, this is breathtaking. I literally could hardly breathe seeing these heartbreakingly beautiful laces. Wow. And what a story. Your grandfather lives through you most certainly. Does the Met Museum know about his work?

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    1. Thank you so much. It’s kind of mind blowing, I must say. I tried to contact the met years ago when my grandmother died as she has racks of Corning dating back to the mid 1800’s but I never heard back. Unless I have a name, I think my emails and voice mails just go to random people, if that. ❤️

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  2. What a treasure trove!!!!! And the family history, so wonderful. I have the feeling the curators at the FIT museum would be enthralled, and the sketchbooks and documents could be the basis of a wonderful exhibit there. A >

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow… I got chills as I read this. The connection is amazing. The archive you now have of his career and sketches will mean so much. Very special. You are doing exactly what you are meant to. It’s a journey and now know where your talents/likes come from. Enjoy.

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  4. How wonderful. I think we inherit our ancestors traits, the women on my maternal side were seamstresses going back generations. My love is in fibers and hand stitching. Thank you for this beautiful story.

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  5. I literally gasped as I scrolled through those pictures. To say it is a treasure is an understatement! Connecting the dots is an awesome feeling. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree!

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  6.  Thank you for uncovering all those designs! I printed them all so as to have record of the incredible artist he was. He and his wife, Marguerite, who was American, came to visit us when we were living at Selby Lane. he wrote his notes in Swiss-German so even I had difficulty in translating them. ❤️ Mom

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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    1. I thought they were written in Swiss-German from what little I could translate. The notebook is filled, every single page with tons of tracing paper drawings inserted and carefully glued in between the notes. It’s incredible. I had no idea. He was so talented! I’m sending you love, Mom. ❤️❤️💕💕

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  7. What a treasure to find and explore. Just this week I went through a small wooden box of my mom’s. At first glance it appeared to be handkerchiefs. But as I took them out there were newspaper clippings. One being the wedding announcement of the ceremony along with a description of her wedding gown. Also what the bride’s maids wore and her going away outfit and their honeymoon destination.

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  8. Oh my gosh! What a find! How exciting for you and for US to see and hear the story behind the work! Oh Yes, I firmly believe that being an artist is a trait passed down in families. My father was an artist and one of 2 people in the US to do what he did, which was create glorious things from mother of pearl. He even made a piano table for Liberace. Oh thank you so much for sharing this gorgeous book with us!

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  9. How extraordinary and wonderful, Ariane. The laces are gorgeous and his designs are absolutely beautiful. What a very special treasure to have found!

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    1. I’m still kind of shocked, I have to say. I tried to decipher his beautiful handwriting but was unable to. I’ll send to my mother and see if she can make it out. ❤️

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  10. What a fabulous treasure you have. I used to give lectures on Lace and buttons throughout the country and I know the amazing laces you have. I spent a year conserving a lace wedding dress for Verdmont House, a national trust house in Bermuda. Your grandfather’s gift should be shared with the world. It would make a beautiful coffee table book. Many, many museums would love to put on an exhibit for you. So many artists creations have been lost over time, which is why there is such a need to share. Please reconsider before you cut into any more of the pieces.
    They are not replaceable. Love snd hugs… Sally in Florida
    PS — I framed 2 lace collars for different museums—one Irish crochet from 1800’s and one Bobbin Lace “Maltese Cross” from Italy around 1800

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      1. Hi Ariane. We have two museums in the United States with four-year conservation degrees in textile arts.
        Wenthethur (? Spelling) museum in Delaware and the DeWitt -Wallace museum in Williamsburg ..both these places do lots of restoration and have 3 month shows. These are the only two schools with degrees in conservation of textiles. I saw a book of samples of schoolgirl stitching (primitive) in Belgium at antique shop for $3,000.00. I paid $500.00 for a hand made lace hanky in Brugge. You have treasures❤️❤️

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  11. Ariane, I love each and every one of your posts, your writing is as beautiful as your handwork! And today – this struck me – I am of Swiss descent as well (Gschwind, Basel region) and this beauty found is breathtaking, and inspiring. Thank you for sharing, I will be rereading this post as I do your others.. such delicious food for the creative soul.

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