It’s FRIDAY FASHION FACT, and it’s time for our next designer bio! Today we are talking about the innovative and inspiring Mariano Fortuny.
Fortuny was born in 1871 in Granada Spain. Both his father and
maternal grandfather were renowned painters. Though his father died when
Fortuny was only three years old, he remained a source of inspiration
throughout the designer’s life. Fortuny’s parents had a wide textile
collection which fascinated Fortuny from a young age. Throughout his
youth, he lived in some of the great art cities of Europe, including
Paris and Venice. He became involved in many forms of art, including
painting, photography, and even lighting and set design for Wagner
operas. In fact, it was Mariano Fortuny who pioneered the idea of
theatre designers working in tandem with the construction team to mold
and adapt the design every step of the way. To this day, this remains
one of the first lessons taught to aspiring theatre designers.
continued to be involved in theatre for the remainder of his career,
both designing and inventing new forms of stage lighting. But the reason
we are talking about him today is, of course, his fashion designs.
During he rise of his fashion career around the turn of the 20th
Century, women’s fashion consisted of highly structured, corseted, and
typically quite heavy gowns. Fortuny was inspired by classic simplicity
of the ancient Greeks, though, and thus took his designs in a completely
different direction from the top fashions of the day. His looks were
extremely avant-garde for the time, and only the most daring women would
don his sleek creations. Not only were the looks shocking to polite society,
but they were originally designed to be casual tea dresses. As a result, women would only wear Fortuny designs at home. It
wasn’t until post World War I, when corsets fell from favor and gowns
were simplified, that Fortuny gowns were seen in public.
epitome of Fortuny’s aesthetic is in the infamous Delphos gown. This
simplistic gown, named for the ancient Greek bronze statue, The Charioteer of Delphi,
was created using tightly pleated silk. First created in 1907, Mariano
Fortuny made a number of variations of the Delphos gown throughout his
career. The silhouette itself was extremely simple, mimicking the Greek
chiton (read here.) Yet it was the perfectly pleated, airy silk which
caused such a stir. The edges of the silk would be minimally trimmed
with Murano glass beads which would slightly weigh down the light fabric so
that it hugged the body. The fabric was created using a top secret
formula where the fabric was heated and pressed with ceramic. However,
the process was so closely guarded that its exact specifications remain
a mystery to this day, and the pleating has yet to be replicated. Even
at the time the dresses were first created, if the pleats were ever
accidentally pressed out of a gown, the owner would need to return the
piece to Fortuny’s personal studio to have it re-pleated.
lived most of his later years in Venice in a 13th Century palazzo along
with his wife Henriette, also a skilled dressmaker who helped create
many of her husband’s designs. Fortuny passed away in 1949, yet his
stunning designs remain some of the most sought after vintage pieces in
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Above, Gertrude Sanford, portrait by William Orpen, 1922. Sanford was a socialite, big game hunter, and P.O.W. who escaped the Nazis during WWII.
For her portrait, 20 year old Sanford posed in a lilac Fortuny Delphos gown. Over the gown she wears a malachite green stenciled tunic, also possibly by Fortuny. Below left is a Mint Green Fortuny stenciled coat owned and worn by Sanford [in the collection of the Charleston Museum]. At right, a violet Peplos from the Museo del Traje, similar to the gown Sanford wears.