Ever thought of the zipper as cutting edge technology?

At work (Carnegie Museum of Art) we are getting ready to say goodbye to Iris Van Herpen: Transforming Fashion. It’s been fun and exciting to be a part of this exhibit and I will miss getting the chance to be up close and personal with 45 of her amazing dresses!

While I found Van Herpen’s use of technology a bit intimidating at first, the fashion industry has always taken advantage of technological advancements, and while each step was surprising for consumers at the time, with time, these move into the typical tools used for the job. Van Herpen was the first designer to create and present a garment that was 3-D printed and now that technique is becoming much more common on the runway and there are online stores that sell very basic 3-D printed garments at modest price points. Other examples of breakthrough technologies throughout the history of fashion are interesting to consider, and some of these may look extremely simple to our 21st century eyes.

Yes, once upon a time, even the humble zipper was state of the art technology! And I think it is a perfect example of an impressive advancement that is now in everyday use. The book Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty by Robert Freidel takes a close look at the history of something we use everyday and probably only think about when it gets stuck!

When the zipper was first invented, language in the patent suggested that it would be good for footwear, and maybe for gloves. Goodyear was an early manufacturer to try them out in their line of rain boots during the 1920s and some of the more adventurous fashion designers soon followed with fashion forward designs that presented the zipper in headlining ways. Elsa Schiaparelli was a leader in this effort.

By the early 1930s, she was incorporating color coordinating plastic zippers into her dress designs. It may sound strange now, but in the mid 1930s, zippers created a bit of a sensation. Schiaparelli herself wrote:

“Sciap, catching the mood, showed regal clothes embroidered with pearls or daringly striped, but what upset the poor, breathless reporters most were the zips. Not only did they appear for the first time, but in the most unexpected places, even on evening clothes. The whole collection was full of them . Astounded buyers bought and bought. They had come prepared for every kind of strange button. Indeed these had been the signature of the house. But they were not prepared for zips.”