Fortuny, Mariano

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Although Mariano Fortuny considered himself a painter, he pursued various critical and aesthetic interests. He is primarily remembered for remarkable layers of dyed and patterned fabrics, which he created between 1906 and 1949. Born in Granada, Spain, to an upper-class family of distinguished painters, Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871–1949) is more often associated with the city of Venice, Italy, where he lived and worked most of his life.

As a child, Fortuny was surrounded by eclectic assemblages of ephemera: antique textile remnants, carpets, costumes, vestments, furniture, armor, and implements of war collected as art objects. Following the untimely death of his father, the painter Mariano Fortuny y Marsal, in 1874, young Mariano, his mother, and his sister moved to Paris in 1875. Although he considered himself self-taught, he was guided toward the arts by his uncle Raymundo, a painter, and informally by the sculptor Auguste Rodin. He later expanded his education in Germany, where he studied physics and chemistry. In 1889 the Fortuny family traveled to Venice; finding it a romantic and artistic center, they moved there permanently in 1890.

Business Innovations

Fortuny's garments and textiles fuse history, anthropology, and art. By blending various dyes he achieved luminous, unique colors. Resurrecting the ancient craft of pleating fabric, artistically symbolizing a reflection of the sun's rays, Fortuny developed his own interpretation of this craft and registered his heated pleating device in 1909. Between 1901 and 1933 he registered twenty-two patents, all of which related to garments and printing methods. Prolific in artistic pursuits, he printed etchings, invented a type of photography paper, designed lamps and furniture, bound books, and maintained an extensive, private reference library. He displayed his own artistic creations in the ground floor showroom of his residential palazzo.

An interest in Richard Wagner's operatic productions drew Fortuny to Bayreuth, Germany, in 1892. Fascinated by the dramatic spectacle unfolding before him, he developed a revolutionary, indirect lighting system that transformed cumbersome stage scenery and obsolete gas lamps, significantly changing the atmosphere onstage. Commissioned by an art patron, he constructed two enormous, vaulted quarter spheres of cloth, expanded over a collapsible metal frame, which amplified color and sound. The spheres were 225 square meters (269 square yards) in area and 7 meters (7.6 yards) high. His first theatrical costume was a figure-enveloping, border-printed scarf titled the Knossos, presented in a private theater in 1907. Isadora Duncan was the first to wear the Knossos scarf. At the home of his patron Cotesse de Bearn in 1906 in Paris, his stage lighting system first appeared as well as his first textile creation printed with geometric motifs. This theatrical endeavor transformed his awareness and appreciation of materials into a tactile form, quite separated from his representational works.

Fortuny preferred working alone to avoid conflict, illustrating his theory that an artist must control all aspects of the creative act, but he did allow collections of his fabrics, gowns, and accessories to be sold in a Paris boutique operated by Paul Poiret. His gowns were also available at Liberty of London and his shops in Paris, London, and New York.

Personal Image and Acknowledgments

Throughout his life Fortuny maintained a striking figure, dressing in artistic combinations, even regional and ethnic dress. He married Henriette Negrin, an accomplished French seamstress who designed patterns for his garments. Together, they developed methods and practices in the atelier of their Palazzo Orfei residence. Driven by spirited curiosity rather than training as a couturier, Fortuny depended on ancient and regional styles that became the foundation of his modern and comfortable styles for women, costumes for the theater, and yardage for interiors.

In an atmosphere of antiquated splendor, Fortuny dressed Venice's artistic community at the turn of the century, where Americans and Europeans—including the actress Sarah Bernhardt, the dancer Isadora Duncan, and the poet Gabriele D'Annunzio—were among those who sought cultural legitimacy with the notion that the classical and the beautiful were one. Artists of the theater and American travelers were the first to wear his gowns in public.

Artistic Hallmarks

Among the garments viewed in museum collections, the loosely twisted, pleated gowns labeled Delphos and Peplos, of Greek origin, are exhibited more frequently than any others. His diagrams of the Delphos and the wooden structure fitted with ceramic tubes that heat-set his signature pleats are also popular museum exhibits. Similar avant-garde dresses, referred to as tea gowns, enhanced Fortuny's popularity with the wave of orientalism that dominated the arts in the years before World War I.

Echoing his knowledge of textile history, Fortuny produced his imaginative manipulations through printed and applied methods, freeing him to experiment. His vertical pleating and undulating silk and cotton yardage yielded natural elasticity, flowing effortlessly over the contours of female forms. Delicate Murano glass beads were laced onto silk cording and hand-stitched along hems, seams, and necklines, giving weight to an even edge, similar to the ancient Greek method of weighting fabric with metal. His method was to piece-dye cut lengths, frequently layering natural and, later, aniline dyes and occasionally incorporating agents to resist previously applied colors, which resulted in random, transparent irregularity. Clients were required to return the garment to the island factory of La Giudecca in order to clean and pleat the material.

For his imported silk, cotton, and velvet surfaces, Fortuny studied Japanese and Southeast Asian methods of hand-printing, including the pochoir method, for precise color transfer to cloth. Block printing and silk screening, positioned on seams in central areas of a garment and along edges, provided striking effects. Fortuny combined metal powder with pigments to simulate shimmering metallic thread, inspired by sixteenth-century velvets. On occasion, more than a dozen processes—including paintbrushes, sponges, and decolorization—were implemented on each unique length. The paintbrushes and sponges were used to create a marbled effect, already a method known in Lyon, to create the same effect of patchiness. Artisans were directed to incorporate various methods to correct or retouch the yardage. Textile patterns and motifs reflected his studies in the art museums of Venice, where he made note of the dress depicted in canvases. When he adapted the traditional practice of goffering, realizing a relief in velvet pile, he may have used block-printing methods and silk screening. His pattern adaptations of regional dress, hand-stitched with one of three labels (Mariano Fortuny Venise, Fabriqué en Italie, or Fortuny de Pose), can be identified as variations inspired by ancient Greek dress for men or women, dress of the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, the Moroccan djellaba, North African bournous, Arabic abaia (a kind of caftan), Japanese kimono, Coptic tunic, and Indian sari.

Fortuny in the Twenty-first Century

In 1922 Fortuny, Inc., was established in collaboration with the American interior designer Elsie Lee McNeill, later Countess Gozzi. Henriette remained in the palazzo to oversee the production of silk and velvet garments, while Fortuny moved production to a factory on the island of La Giudecca. After his death in 1949, garments were no longer produced. Gozzi continued to promote the mysteries of his textiles for almost forty years, until she sold her rights to printing yardage to her friend and attorney, Maged Riad, in 1998. In the early twenty-first century, Riad's children became responsible for the firm in New York, and his brother took over as the artistic director of production on La Giudecca. Appointments for research in the Palazzo Fortuny are limited, though the building is frequently the venue for art exhibitions, managed by the city of Venice.

The company's contemporary collection of yardage contains approximately 260 original patterns and color combinations printed on silk, velvet, and Egyptian cotton, including irregular application by artisans, who give each length an aged and artistic patina. Antique textile dealers and international specialists represent original yardage.

Since Fortuny creations were originally an attraction for travelers, interpretations of his artistry have been faithfully recovered by Venetia Studium, directed by Lino Lando and available to the visitor to Venice. Connoisseurs, collectors, historians, and antique dealers agree that Mariano Fortuny achieved an elegant, impressive balance, fusing art and science. His legacy proves his relevance.

See alsoArt and Fashion; Clothing, Costume, and Dress; Orientalism; Proust, Marcel .


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Gillion Carrara

Fortuny (Y Madrazo), Mariano

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Spanish designer

Born: Granada, Spain, 1871. Family: Married Henriette Negrin, 1918. Career: Produced Knossos printed scarves from 1906; produced Delphos gowns, 1907-52; Delphos robe patented, 1909; method for pleating and undulating fabric patented, 1909; methods for printing fabrics patented, 1909, 1910; 18 other patents received, 1901-33; opened showroom for sale of textiles and clothing, Venice, 1909; established Societá Anonima Fortuny, factory for printed textiles, 1919; opened shops in Paris and Milan, 1920; also an inventor, stage designer, painter, and photographer. Exhibitions: Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo [drawings and paintings], Galeria Dedalo, Milan, 1935, Galerie Hector Brame, Paris, 1934; Exposition Fortuny y Marsal y Fortuny y Madrazo [etchings], Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid, 1952; A Remembrance of Mariano Fortuny, Los Angeles County Museum, 1967-68; Mariano Fortuny (1871-1949), Musée Historique des Tissus, Lyons, and Brighton Museum, 1980, Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, 1981, and Art Institute of Chicago, 1982; Chicago International Antiques Show (featuring Fortuny gowns from the Martin Kamer Ltd. collection of New York), 1988. Died: 2 May 1949, in Venice.




Éclairage scénique: Systéme Fortuny, Paris, 1904.

Fortuny 1838-1874, Bologna, 1933.



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Mariano Fortuny was an artistic genius with an insatiable curiosity; this led him to pursue a variety of disciplines, which evolved through an interesting series of interconnections. Always a painter, he turned to etching, sculpture, photography, lighting design, theatre direction, set design, architecture, and costume design, ultimately to be a creator of magnificent fabrics and clothing.

Through painting Fortuny learned the subtle uses of color that enabled him to produce unequalled silks and velvets from which he made exquisite gowns. Fortuny's work as a fabric and dress designer was determined by a combination of external and internal influences: externally by Modernism and the English Aesthetic movement, during the early part of the 1900s, as well as Greek and Venetian antiquity; internally by a love inherited from his father of everything Arabic and Asian. During all these creative experiences he maintained a keen artistic sense and the mind of an inventor.

Fashion, as we know it, did not interest Fortuny and he rejected commercial fashion and couture houses. First and foremost a painter who happened to create stage scenery and lighting effects, as well as clothes, Fortuny's initiation with fabrics and fashion was through costumes for the theatre designed in conjunction with his revolutionary lighting techniques. His first textile creations, known as the "Knossos scarves," were silk veils, printed with geometric motifs (inspired by Cycladic art) which were made in any number of variations until the 1930s. These scarves were, essentially, a type of clothingrectangular pieces of cloth that could be wrapped, tied, and used in a variety of waysalways allowing for freedom of individual expression and movement. His sole interest was the woman herself and her personal attributes, to which he had no wish to add any ornamentation. These simple scarves allowed Fortuny to combine form and fabric as they adapted easily into every kind of shape, from jackets to skirts, and tunics.

Fortuny's most famous garment was the Delphos gown. It was a revolution for the corseted woman of 1907 in that it was of pleated silk, simply cut, and hung loosely from the shoulders. Fortuny regarded his new concept of dress as an invention, and patented it in 1909. The dress was modern and original and numerous variations were producedsome with short sleeves, some with long, wide sleeves tied at the wrist, and others that were sleeveless.

The original Delphos gowns had batwing sleeves and usually had wide bateau necklines and always, no matter what the shape, a cord to allow for shoulder adjustments. They were invariably finished with small Venetian glass beads with a dual purpose: not only did the beads serve as ornamentation, they also weighed the dress down, allowing it to cling to the contours of the body rather than float. The pleats of the Delphos were achieved through Fortuny's secret, patented invention. However unconventional for the time, these dresses were extremely popular for at-home women entertaining and considered primarily tea dresses. It was not until the 1920s that women dared to popularize them as clothing acceptable to be worn outside the home. Fortuny's techniques were simple but effective. Today the Delphos dress has pleats that are as tight and crisp as when they were new. Storing them as rolled and twisted balls makes them convenient for travel and eliminates the need for ironing.

In addition to his work in silk, Fortuny began printing on velvet, first with block prints followed by the development of a stencil method that was a precursor of the rotary silk screen. The velvet found its use in dresses, jackets, capes, and cloaks to cover the Delphos gowns, as well as home furnishing fabrics, still available today. Since his work in silk and velvet never radically changed into anything different, it is almost impossible to establish a chronology of his garments.

To Mariano Fortuny fashion was art, an unchanging fashion outside the world of fashion. Although many of his contemporaries were innovative designers, their designs were created for a specific time and season with built-in obsolescence. By contrast, Fortuny's clothes are timeless. The elegant simplicity, perfection of cut, and unusual sensuality of color is where their beauty lies. Perfectly integrating these elements and placing them on the female figure makes a Fortuny garment a work of artand as such they are in demand by museums and private collectors alike, often fetching as much as $40,000 per gown at auctions.

Roberta H.Gruber;

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