Photograph of Albert Hollenstein giving a class in the basement of the Studio, ca. 1965, Hollenstein archives, Ville de Paris, Bibliothèque Forney.
© unknown

PhD - “Les Suisses de Paris” or the Making of a Parisian Switzerland

October 2016 to October 2020

By : Constance Delamadeleine (HEAD – Genève)
Beginning of the dissertation : October 2016
Scheduled end of the dissertation : October 2020
Direction: Kornelia Imesh Oechslin (Unil-Lausanne)
Co-direction: Sarah Owens (ZHdK Zürich)
Link to project Synergia

The 1960s were a golden age for Swiss graphic design in France. Encouraged by the political and economic context of the after-war period, a large number of Swiss-trained graphic designers and typographers moved to Paris. Supplied with a type of education that was not available in France, they rapidly rose to prominence and became commonly referred to as Les Suisses de Paris by the media. The development of Les Suisses de Paris as a Swiss group and their success emerged when the national concept of the “Swiss abroad” became reinforced to strengthen the Switzerland’s international position. Drawing on visual and textual archival material combined with interviews and press reviews, this research aims to understand how the national concept of the “Swiss abroad” and the making of Les Suisses de Paris are intertwined. How significant was the national identity of these Swiss practitioners in France and what impact did Paris have on their practice? The relationship between their professional migration and the national representation of Switzerland abroad can be examined by focusing on the following three issues: first, by analysing the strategies and networks of Swiss practitioners in Paris; secondly, by highlighting the role of French and Swiss institutions in the promotion of Swiss graphic design in France, and thirdly, by examining how national identity was attributed to graphic design in various French and Swiss newspapers and professional journals in interconnected fields in the 1960s.

This thesis explores how Les Suisses de Paris were shaped one the one hand by Swiss designers for business purposes and on the other hand, by a network of political, economic and cultural actors who aimed to consolidate and promote Switzerland’s presence in Paris. Moreover, it aims to highlight how these individual actors, groups and institutions attempted to locate and legitimise Swiss graphic design as a role model in France. It also reveals how the success of Swiss design in France also relied on processes of cultural adaptation and a manifold sense of belonging.

Drawing on postcolonial studies and based on recent research into Switzerland’s postcolonial history, this thesis argues that the rise of Les Suisses de Paris in France can be understood as a cultural colonial endeavour. With the example of Les Suisses de Paris, it aims to identify how postcolonial theory might inform design history by examining issues at the crossroads of knowledge and power.


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