Fashion History Lesson: Mariano Fortuny
BY YAILYA MARTINEZ
Traveling to Santorini, Greece has always been number one on my bucket list! Learning about Ancient Greek history in school, reading about Greek Mythology, looking at pictures of the beautiful scenery, Alexis Bledel’s (Lena from the Sisterhood of Traveling Pants) summer Greek romance, and the greatness that is My Big Fat Greek Wedding 1 and 2, have all fed into my obsessive love for Greece and it’s culture. As I have the privilege to intern for Susanna Galanis, a Greek native herself, my interest furthered even more when I was exposed to one of the greatest designers of all time who was greatly inspired by Greek culture, Mariano Fortuny. I was first exposed to Fortuny when I laid eyes on one of his famous hand pleated dresses at Manus x Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology, this year’s exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This inspired me to share a timeline of his life and what lead him to become one of the greatest designers of all time!
Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo was born on May 11 1871, to an upper class artistic family. Throughout his childhood, he was surrounded by vintage textiles, fabrics, furniture, carpets, and armor. At the age of three his father, Mariano Fortuny y Marsal, died in 1874 in Rome. Following this, Mariano’s mother moved the family to Paris in 1875. Two of his greatest influencers that guided him as an artist were his uncle Raymundo who was a painter, and Auguste Rodin, a sculptor. Like many other artists/designers, Mariano and his family found inspiration in their environment. The family traveled to Venice, Italy in 1889 and found the city to be unique and artistic. Therefore, they moved there permanently in 1890. Venice is where Mariano Fortuny established his life and career. A very interesting trait of Fortuny is that fashion did not interest him, he dismissed commercial fashion and couture houses. He was primarily a painter which led him to create stage scenery and lighting effects, as well as clothes. Dazzled by the theatre, he created an indirect lighting system that altered unmanageable stage scenery and ancient gas lamps, which changed the onstage appearance greatly. With the cosign of an art patron, he was able to develop two huge curved quarter spheres of cloth spread out over a bendable metal frame, in order to intensify color and sound.
Through inventing new lighting techniques and designing theatre costumes Fortuny became involved with fabrics and fashion. The “Knossos scarf” was his first work in textiles and theatrical costumes. The Knossos scarf was a geometric print silk veil and the first person to wear it was Isadora Duncan. His given talent in painting taught him how to use colors to make singular silks and velvets from which he made impeccable gowns. His fabrics and designs were stimulated by Modernism and the English Aesthetic movement, however Fortuny was incredibly influenced by Greek and Venetian antiquity. Internal factors such a love for everything Arabic and Asian that he acquired from his father, were also major influences in his dress creations. He blended various dyes to achieve luminous, unique colors and layers of pattern making which is what he is most remembered for today.
A very important factor that makes Mariano Fortuny an innovative genius is that he brought back the ancient craft of pleating fabrics which symbolizes a reflection of sun rays. He applied his textile knowledge and his creativity to experiment with his designs. Fortuny’s famous vertical pleating and rippled silk and cotton yardage allowed natural elasticity, flowing freely over the female profile. Fortuny used the ancient Greek method of weighing fabric with metal by lacing glass beads onto silk cording, and hand-stiching along hems, seams, and necklines.
He created his own version of hand-pleating which is seen on his most famous gown ever, the “Delphos Dress’’. The Delphos gown was a pleated silk, simply cut gown that hung loosely from the shoulders, inspired by Greek sculpture. This masterpiece was a revolution at the time since the norm was for woman to be tight and corseted. Mariano deemed the Delphos gown as an invention which resulted in him registering his own pleating device in 1909. Many variations of this dress were produced; some dresses had short sleeves, others with long, wide sleeves tied at the wrist, and others that were sleeveless.
Fortuny’s incomparable ability to develop such distinct fabrics in innovative ways is respected and widely recognized in the fashion world today. Along with many others, he helped revolutionize fashion and paved the way for new inventions. Contemporary designers such as Valentino, and Martin Maison Margiela have been greatly influenced by Fortuny and have featured his classic pleating, colored fabrics, and patterned work in their collections.
Famous Exhibitions and Palazzo Fortuny…
Aside from being shown at Manus x Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology, Mariano Fortuny has had many other exhibitions including Fortuny. New York: Fashion Institute of Technology in 1981, Paris Fashion: A Cultural History in 1998, and A Remembrance of Mariano Fortuny, Los Angeles County Museum, in 1967-68. Additionally, his work can also be seen at the Palazzo Fortuny during temporary exhibitions. Fun Fact: This beautiful palace was once the house of Fortuny where he and his wife, Henriette Negrin, designed patterns for his garments. She was not only his wife but his model and muse as well…So Romantic!
Furniture and Modern Fortuny…
Fortuny Inc.. was established in 1922. After Fortuny died in 1949, his garments were no longer produced. There is still a Fortuny showroom in New York and Venice. The core of Mariano Fortuny’s classic fabrics is still incorporated in the production of the fabrics under Fortuny Inc.. Today, these fabrics are used for furniture designs which I would love to own one day when I have my own place!
Writing this blog has been quite a learning experience! It’s always important to know about the fashion Gods that came before us and how many of the modern designers including Susanna have been affected by their brilliant ideas. Fortuny was a man of many talents. He is often imitated but he can never be duplicated. Mariano Fortuny was truly a gem and we shall treasure his memory forever. I’m buying my ticket to Greece with a stop to Venice along the way ASAP!
Until next time my dazzling goddesses!