Zika Ascher (3 April 1910 – 5 September 1992) was a Czech artist and designer, who became pre-eminent in the related fields of British textiles, art, and fashion. A 264 page book about his work, and that of his wife Lida Ascher, was written by Valerie Mendes (author and stepmother of Sam Mendes) and published by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, to coincide with a 1987 retrospective exhibition of the Aschers' work. The title Ascher: Fabric, Art, Fashion, describes the breadth of their achievements in these three related fields. Three photographic portraits of Zika Ascher are held in the collection at the National Portrait Gallery in London; two by John Gay and a third by Francis Goodman.
A substantial number of Ascher textiles designed by the British artist Henry Moore are held in the V&A collection. The designs were commissioned by Zika Ascher from 1944–1946. The first collection of Henry Moore textiles printed by Ascher was introduced at the Dorchester Hotel in London in May 1945.
The Henry Moore Foundation published a book by Anita Feldman and Sue Pritchard in 2009, entitled 'Henry Moore Textiles', which contains extensive references and examples of Ascher textiles designed by Henry Moore. The book was published to coincide with an exhibition at the Henry Moore Foundation in 2008, which later went on tour. The book was published by Lund Humphries, a leading publisher on British Art. Lund Humphries article
His significant influence on the collections of major couturiers, such as Christian Dior, Cristobel Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent, is cited in the Vogue History of Twentieth Century Fashion by Jane Mulvagh ( Viking Penguin, London 1988). Christian Dior referred to Mr Ascher as 'Mr Rose Pompom' after a beautiful rose printed fabric designed by Ascher in the 1950s, and used extensively in the summer Haute Couture collection by Dior. Apollo magazine London published a six page monograph on Ascher in 1987. His work was displayed at the first major retrospective of Balenciaga's work at the Silk Museum in Lyons 1986. One of the first John Galliano's collections, 'Les Incroyables' featured many yards of Ascher's cream cheesecloth, drenched in water.
There have been only four instances of production of the Henry Moore textiles and scarves by the Aschers in the 65 years since they were designed: The first was in the late eighties when Zika Ascher printed two designs for wall panels which had not previously been printed. The second was when the Henry Moore Foundation asked the Aschers to reprint various curtain textiles that had faded over time at the artist's house at Perry Green. The third was a reprint of Moore scarves for the gift shop at Tate Modern, when they mounted a major retrospective of the artist's work in 2010. The fourth was as part of the first scarf collection by Sam Ascher, grandson of Zika Ascher, for Spring/Summer 2011, in which some archive designs by Moore, Graham Sutherland, and other artists were featured.
The Ascher Project
What was then known as The Ascher Project, to create innovative textiles based on contemporary art, ran in tandem with the Ministry of Information's propaganda initiative, to introduce modern art to the 'man on the street'. The War Pictures at the National Gallery in 1944 included paintings by Henry Moore and there is footage of Zika Ascher trawling the National Gallery rooms, inspecting Moore's work. It was not long before he had Moore designing scarves, curtain fabrics and dress fabrics, creating a vibrant new design language which was to be accessible to all.
The Ascher Project did not only relate to Henry Moore however. In 1946 he went to Paris and using a telephone in the Cafe du Rond Point des Champs-Elysee, called Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and André Derain. 'Every one of them invited Zika Ascher to meet them' wrote Lucy Davies in the Sunday Telegraph, Stella Magazine, November 2010. Eventually, 51 leading French and English artists designed scarves for Ascher. They were called 'Artists' Squares' and, often printed on rayon due to shortages of materials immediately following the war, they brightened up drab outfits in a way that came to be universally loved by women across Europe and America. The artists were commissioned between 1946 and 1955 and though most contributed one scarf design, some, for instance Cecil Beaton, designed up to four. They were all printed in limited editions and continue to crop up in fine art auctions.
Ascher Fashion Fabrics
Zika Ascher was responsible for introducing hand-tufted mohair fabrics into haute couture in 1957 and these fluffy, bulky textiles were very popular with haute couture fashion designers in Paris and London. At the time, textile houses such as Ascher would present biannual collections of fabrics to the couturiers, who would then choose their fabrics from what was on offer. The first to use Ascher Mohair was Lanvin-Castillo for the Autumn-Winter collection that year. (Castillo was the designer of French fashion house Lanvin from 1951–1962). Lanvin. Ascher's hand tufted mohair fabrics continued to be much in demand for several years, and were featured for instance in the Balenciaga Autumn Winter collection of 1964. A coat designed by Cristóbal Balenciaga made with an Ascher green, red and pink hand tufted mohair fabric was featured on the cover of French Vogue in November 1964, eight years after the first Ascher mohair.
In 1969 Zika Ascher experimented with a 'disposable' paper fabric, which had to be made resilient enough not to tear. He commissioned Celia Birtwell and put her Happy Bubble design into production - it was made into a famous mini dress designed by Ossie Clark. A photograph on page 96 of the V&A Museum book Ascher: Fabric, Art, Fashion, shows a crepe de chine fabric design by Lucian Freud. He and other great artists at the time put their trust in the quality of the Ascher printing and colour matching. "Artists commissioned by Zika Ascher were fortunate to have their work sensitively interpreted and skilfully put into repeat...Zika Ascher was insistent upon top quality printing and accurate colour matching; trials continued until design and printed fabric tallied exactly." (Valerie D. Mendes and Frances M. Hinchcliffe)
An obituary in The Independent in 1992 credits Zika Ascher with not only being the first to supply shaggy mohairs but also with introducing cheesecloths and romantic lacy fabrics to the catwalks of the late Fifties and mid-Sixties.
- "1960s Textile Designers". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 23 December 2013.
- Glancey, Jonathan (9 December 1992). "Obituary: Zika Ascher". The Independent (London). Retrieved 23 December 2013.
- MacCarthy, Fiona (4 October 2008). "Clock faces and caterpillars". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 23 December 2013.
- Davies, Lucy (25 November 2010). "Ascher London is relaunched". Fashion & Beauty (London: The Telegraph). Retrieved 23 December 2013.