Marg von Schwerin was one of the founders of the well-known fashion school and French custom tailoring known as Märthaskolan.
Marg von Schwerin was born in 1899. She was the daughter of Carl Suno and Anna Engström and was brought up in Visby. Her father died when she was 10 years old. During her childhood she visited France, and Paris in particular, several times. She attended a sewing-course in Visby, followed by further training at the Femina sömnadsskola (school of sewing) as well as a pattern-cutting course in Paris. All this training resulted in her being employed by the Femina sömnadsskola to teach. She also served as a fashion- and design expert for the weekly journal Idun. In 1925 Marg von Schwerin travelled to Paris, at Idun’s expense, to report on the French capital’s fashion shows.
When Märthaskolan was at planning stage in June 1927 Idun reported: “This autumn a new school offering sewing courses for young women will open in Stockholm. The staff include a few familiar names, including Idun’s fashion- and design expert Countess Marg. Von Schwerin and Mrs Margareta Thiel-Burén, the directors of the enterprise. The school has been named Märthaskolan. Why? Well, not only has Princess Märtha promised to be its patron – as it is somewhat vaguely termed – but she also promises to take an interest in it and contribute to it. And no one is more suited to this than she.” Marg von Schwerin was one of the driving forces behind Märthaskolan. She and her friend and colleague Margareta Thiel-Burén, along with some former students from the Femina sömnadsskola, Princess Märtha, Greta Hamilton and Nick Hamilton were all at the Märthaskolan opening in September 1927. Marg von Schwerin held the majority of the shares in the company.
Märthaskolan was partly established in response to the encroaching Americanisation of the clothing industry, which was seen as an erosion of Swedish clothing standards. The intention was to help women become trained tailors so that they could make their own affordable good quality clothes. There were also longer courses, in which students could learn everything from drawing models and developing designs to estimating required amounts of cloth, sewing, and testing. These students were not sewing for their own use, however, but for paying customers. The other part of Märthaskolan comprised a French section with custom tailored clothing, often using patterns from Paris fashion houses. The school also sold items of French haute-couture. Maintaining links with the Paris fashion houses necessitated at least two, but often four, journeys every year to the French capital. In 1929 Märthaskolan became a supplier to the royal court and produced an entire wardrobe for Princess Märtha’s wedding to the Norwegian Crown Prince. Märthaskolan had already been providing clothing to the Swedish royal household since its inception, however.
Märthaskolan expanded throughout the 1930s. Its courses were fully subscribed and the custom tailoring business was thriving. The school held regular fashion shows which generated even more commissions. Clients of Märthaskolan included internationally renowned women such as Ann-Mari von Bismarck, Sonja Wigert, Elsa Burnett, and Margit Rosengren. Further, the school took part in the 1930 Stockholm exhibition at which it had its own pavilion. The most important clients of Märthaskolan included well-known female professionals such as Alva Myrdal and Karin Kock.
The Second World War caused problems for the fashion industry – with shortages in cloth deliveries and difficulties in disseminating new patterns and models – which also impacted on Märthaskolan. During the 1940s a new branch involving the school’s own production of woollen cloths emerged. Märthaskolan was also one of the first producers of batch-produced clothing in limited numbers. The closing of international borders across Europe meant that young women who would otherwise have chosen to study abroad had to stay in Sweden. Märthaskolan doubled the number of courses they offered. Further, during the war the school was commissioned to produce items for the military, and had to adapt three-shift work patterns in order to accommodate the army orders.
Marg von Schwerin wrote a handbook for Märthaskolan in 1941, as well as an advice-book entitled Alla kvinnors bok, in which she summarised the clothing items she considered suitable for specific occasions. She also freelanced for a range of ready-made clothing companies such as Uppsala Kappfabrik, for example.
After the war ended Marg von Schwerin travelled to Paris to rekindle old – and establish new – contacts. Major names such as Chanel and Balenciaga figured amongst the fashion houses which collaborated with Märthaskolan. In 1947 Marg von Schwerin began working with the Dior fashion house and this collaboration continued until Märthaskolan closed in 1975. During the 1950s Märthaskolan enjoyed a prominent position given that both French fashion and haute-couture were very popular.
Marg von Schwerin had three daughters who were more or less involved in Märthaskolan at different times. Her daughter Ebba followed in her mother’s footsteps and ran a successful business called Ebba von Eckermann Textilier. Another daughter, Elisabeth, trained in Great Britain and in the USA and became the managing director of Märthaskolan during its final years in operation from 1972–1975. These last years were marked by changing circumstances such as rent rises, higher taxation on clothing, as well as the emergence of a throwaway mentality which led to a reduction in the call for exclusive clothing. When Märthaskolan closed in 1975 Marg von Schwerin was in her 70s.
Marg von Schwerin died in 1992. She is buried at the Gamla cemetery in Vetlanda.