Page 113 - Montecito Journal Glossy Edition Winter Spring 2014/15

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spr ing
t doesn’t seem likely that there would be any
connection between the elaborate oriel windows
decorating a small city in Switzerland’s Steinach
Valley, and the mustard-yellow ensemble worn by
Michelle Obama to her husband’s first inauguration
ceremony in 2009. But the architectural window
treatments found in St. Gallen’s
(Old Town) were
in fact status symbols for prosperous members of the city’s
cloth manufacturers.
American fashion designer Isabel Toledo used elaborate
embroidery for the new First Lady’s sheath dress and
matching coat, which was made by St. Gallen’s venerable
lace manufacturer Forster Rohner. The firm was founded
in 1904, during a period when St. Gallen’s numerous fabric
companies provided more than 50 percent of the world’s
embroidery, and it is said that every household had at least
one family member working in the textile industry.
The capital of a Swiss canton with the same name,
St. Gallen is the largest city in Ostschweiz, Switzerland’s
rural northeast. Located between Lake Constance and the
Appenzell Alps, St. Gallen’s personality is rumored to have
more in common with its nearby neighbors of Germany
and Austria (both of which are less than an hour away)
than its Swiss compatriots.
St. Gallen was founded by an Irish monk named
Gallus, who according to legend, fell into a briar patch
in the year 612 while scouting a location for his hermit’s
cell. The stumble was followed by a bear encounter,
which Gallus interpreted as divine guidance to locate
his hermitage on the spot – with the bear’s miraculous
assistance on the construction, of course. One wonders if
the unstable soil condition was as apparent to the monk
and the bear as it was to later architects, who have had to
build most edifices on pile foundations driven deep into
the ground.
The ruins of the hermitage became the foundation
for a stone Benedictine Abbey, dedicated in the first half
of the eighth century by its founding abbot, St. Othmar