Gideon Sunback. His name may not ring a bell to readers, but what this Swedish engineer (1850 – 1954) invented sure will – hint: it’s something we all use every single day. We use it to get dressed (and undressed), to put on our shoes (and take them off), and to close our luggage (and open it)… So now you’re probably wondering: So what did this Sundback invent anyway? The one and only zipper, of course (actually, his merit rests on the improvements he made to previous prototypes). Now, his initial goal was not to make our lives easier; he was really looking for a way to hermetically seal mail bags that would keep letters from getting lost. And thus, the metallic zipper – in the form we know today – was officially invented in 1914. Another one of Sundback’s claims to fame was his design for a manufacturing machine for the mass production of the zipper. In addition to being an engineer, this young Swede who had immigrated to the United States to seek his fortune also became a keen businessman.
A few years ago, architect Juli Capella wrote a book titled Así nacen las cosas (That’s how things are invented) published by Electa. The eloquent title was well-chosen, for the book tells the story behind all those small, but essential objects we use on a daily basis. In addition to the history of the invention of the zipper, the book looks at the stories behind the birth of the paperclip, clothespin, post-it note, tin opener and other items. Just close your eyes and try to imagine what your daily life would be like without them. Impossible, right? Although these everyday objects are simple, no contemporary design has been able to improve upon their functionality. But let’s return to the zipper. In the beginning it was mostly used in the industrial sector (to close sacks and tobacco pouches) and in the military (in soldiers’ boots). Yet it wasn’t long before the zipper was introduced into the fashion industry, both in children’s and men’s apparel (in 1940, zippers were used in 85% of all trousers). It was only a matter of time before the zipper would grace women’s wardrobes. This innovation would be helped along by the cinema of the period, and the film Gilda in particular, thanks to the suggestive black dress with a tricky zipper worn by Rita Hayworth. Because zippers, apart from their practical use, also hold an enormous power of seduction.
*Beech Briefcase by Equipaje BCN (available in black or brown leather).
Gilda: “I can never get a zipper to close. Maybe that stands for something, what do you think?”