The Mad Silkman: Zika & Lida Ascher Textiles and Fashion at Czech Center New York



Screen-printed Giselle silk crepe, 1969, © Peter Ascher. Photo © The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, Ondřej Kocourek, 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 United Kingdom, 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) and a brief panel discussion, will take place on Thursday, March 24, 6:30 – 9 PM.

Zika (on the left) and Lida Ascher with an unknown man in Na Příkopě Street in Prague, 1938, Ascher Family Archive

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.

Blue Bird, screen-printed silk, 1953, © Peter Ascher, Photo © The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, Ondřej Kocourek, Ascher Family Archive

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.

Evening Dress, Vanessa for Abelann, 1970, Screen-printed Byblos dégradé on Giselle silk crepe. Fabric © Peter Ascher, Ascher Family Archive.

In addition to his own lively and unique designs, Zika approached leading artists of the time—Pablo Picasso, 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.

Jardin Japonais, afternoon dress (coat not shown) Christian Dior, spring/summer 1953, Blue Bird, screen-printed silk. Fabric © Peter Ascher, Ascher Family Archive

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, NYC. Proof of Covid-19 vaccination is required to enter the venue. Photo ID will be checked.