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Fortuny, Mariano (y Madrazo)

fashion designs created dress

B. 1871

D. May 2, 1949

Birthplace: Granada, Spain

Awards: A Remembrance of Mariano Fortuny , Los Angeles County Museum, 1967–1968
Mariano Fortuny (1871–1949) , Musée Historique des Tissus, Lyons; Brighton Museum, Fashion Institute of Technology; and Art Institute of Chicago; 1980–1982.

Fortuny was born into a family of artists, so it is no surprise that his work focused on the artistic element of fashion. Although his talents and interests were broad, spanning from lighting design and inventions to sculpture and photography, he was a painter foremost. In addition to traditional painting, he created textile designs using painting techniques.

This painter was an unlikely fashion designer. He disliked the trendiness and commercialism of fashion, preferring the natural form to the corseted contortion in vogue during the 1900s. Theater introduced Fortuny to fashion. His first creation, “Knossos scarves,” were made in 1906 for the first performance at the theater he designed for music patroness Comtesse Bearn. These simple silk scarves, which were decorated with geometric patterns, wrapped around the dancers and became unique with each individual dancer’s movements. Fortuny continued making the scarves until the 1930s. The success of the scarves piqued his interest in textile production.

Fortuny’s most enduring and groundbreaking design was the “Delphos gown,” created in 1907 and patented in 1909. Although the dress was cut simply, the elastic quality of the pleated silk produced a sinuous silhouette that harkened back to ancient Greece. First worn by Fortuny’s wife, this soft, uncorseted dress was dramatically different from the tailored, highly structured fashions of the era. It became popular as a tea dress, an informal daytime garment. He produced variations of the dress; some had short sleeves, while others had long ones. One version had a peplum. Each dress was finished with small glass beads to weigh down the lightweight fabric.

From the pleated fabrics he created trousers, horizontally and vertically pleated dresses, and dresses with stenciled designs, in addition to the Delphos gown. Also, he worked with velvet. From this fabric he created fashionable dresses and cloaks as well as home furnishings.

Fortuny’s pleating and dying methods became his trademark. He patented his pleating method, in which each pleat was formed by hand and set with heat. To retain the pleats, each garment was twisted into a small coil. He created deep, luxuriously hued fabrics by layering colors of natural dyes. Also, he mastered numerous textile dying techniques including aquatint printing, photographic printing, and stenciling. Preferring to create designs with dyes, he avoided embroidery and woven designs. The Middle East, Asia, Ancient Greece, and Venice inspired his designs.

For years Fortuny shunned the commercial nature of the fashion world, selling his creations only from his store in Venice. Eventually he authorized the houses of Babani and Poiret in Paris to sell his clothes. Finally, he opened a store in Paris in 1912, which sold clothing and home furnishings. With the efforts of Elsie MacNeill, who would later become Contessa Gozzi, a Fortuny store opened in New York City in 1929. She played an invaluable role for Fortuny by creating her own Fortuny-approved designs from the fabrics and eventually overseeing the fabric-production facilities. She continued to produce garments and fabrics after his death until the early 1980s.

Fortuny’s impact on fashion endured beyond his life. He foreshadowed the uncorseting of women in the 1920s, and he reawakened interest in the natural form. His slinky Delphos gown was repeated by designers for the remainder of the century.

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