Guillermo de Osma, Autor of “Mariano Fortuny, his life and work
Celebrated by his contemporaries as "The Magician of Venice ", Mariano Fortuny, although living a few centuries too late to qualify as one, was certainly a “Renaissance Man” in the truest sense of the term. Trained as a painter, he was also an accomplished and innovative stage-set designer, etcher, sculptor, photographer, architect, inventor, couturier, and lighting technician.
Fortuny was a paradoxical figure. He resolutely turned his back on every innovative artistic movement that emerged during his lifetime, including Impressionism, but was much engaged by new technology. He said he always considered painting to be his profession yet he was a pioneer photographer, made major advances in electric stage lighting and patented a score of inventions.
Fortuny is now remembered most for his dress designs, Grecian-style "Delphos" dresses, which were fabricated from the innovative pleated silk produced by machines designed and patented by Fortuny himself. He is also particularly known today for his hand printed fabrics. His printed silks, cottons and velvets evoke the Venice of Carpaccio and Tintoretto, while his pleated silks, shaped into the simplest of columnar dresses and tunics, are a true reincarnation of classic beauty.
In line with the current revival in baroque and neo classical taste, he has also been partially revived, partially copied. His lightning for theatre as a basic illumination principle is still being used. His techniques for Delphos garments have been revived in the work of Issey Miyake. His fabrics have been adopted by many influential interior architects and design gurus. His textiles are still being produced in Venice at the Guidecca factory, strictly respecting his original production techniques.
But has he really been revived, as he was at his peak in the 20s, as reflected in his shop at 67, rue Charron in Paris ? Unfortunately, he has not. Fortuny, as a brand, remains aspirational and discretely reserved for the intelligent, cultivated and moneyed few. It probably had the potential to become the “Louis Vuitton of textile”, had it belonged to a big group like LVMH and not to a family. But it is also that personal link, emotional ties, and family which have enabled the brand to survive until today without losing any of his value and originality, and permitted production to continue at its Guidecca factory using the very same methods as Fortuny used in his time.
This paper, besides mining the history of the life and work of Mariano Fortuny, discusses its various revivals through the present, and adds some thoughts regarding a possible comeback.
MARIANO FORTUNY Y MADRAZO
Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo was born in Granada , the ancient Moorish capital of Spain , in 1871, of a family of Spanish artists. As he grew, he was surrounded by a profusion of treasures that his parents collected: rare pieces of Hispano-Moresque pottery, Persian carpets, Islamic metalwork and armory, along with a rich collection of traditional fabrics and textiles. Like everything associated with his father, who died when Mariano was three, this world held a special fascination for Fortuny: as a boy he had amused himself by dyeing pieces of material different colours. His own textiles were imbued with the same antique quality possessed by the fabrics, mellowed with age that had surrounded him as a child. The designs on the velvets, brocades, silks and chasubles in his parents' collection were imprinted upon his imagination many years before he started his own production.
After the elder Fortuny's death, his mother moved the family to Paris , where she organized a small salon for the friends and followers of her late husband, and also encouraged Mariano to start painting. Along with painting, he learned etching at an early age. In 1889, his mother moved again, this time to Venice . Although he considered himself first a painter, he had an insatiable curiosity, this led him to pursue a variety of disciplines.,. His most creative period starts once he moves to Palazzo Orfei ( eventually became Palazzo Fortuny, today Fortuny Museum with his lifelong companion Henriette Negrin,whom Fortuny’s mother thoroughly disapproved. (He married Henrietta 14 years later) He began to invest more of his creative energies in his own textile designs .Henriette was his muse and also helped the production of the textile and garments, as she was a skilled dressmaker.Hence Palazzo Fortuny, the house of the magician, became the artists work, production and experimentation place until his death.
Through painting Fortuny learned the subtle uses of colour 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.
Fascinated by his father's large collection of antique and oriental fabrics, Fortuny's eclectic tastes led him also to study patterns from the even more remote cultures of Africa, Central America and Polynesia
The elements which came to have the greatest influences on Fortuny were the art of the past and that of non-Western cultures where the concept of progress and change did not exist until the arrival of European colonists. His favourite periods were Classical Greece, the Renaissance and the great Venetian art of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which still surrounded him. Of all non-Western cultures, the one he preferred was the Arabic, during the era of its greatest expansion when it extended from Morocco to India , passing through Persia and the Near East .
One of Fortuny's main sources of inspiration was Richard Wagner. The legends that provided the basis for Wagner's musical dramas also furnished Fortuny with a vast range of images, which he developed in his paintings and engravings. Wagner and 'Wagnerianism' were essential elements of the fin-de-siecle, and as a young man, Fortuny was introduced to Wagnerian music and mythology.
Fortuny’s Wagnerian experience was a decisive milestone in his career, introducing him to a new world of aesthetic possibilities. In Wagner’s view, art fulfilled a basic need in life, and he therefore did not regard painting, sculpture or music as separate entities. For Wagner, opera was only valid as a work of art if a perfect union could be achieved between music poetry (the dramatic element) and painting (the stage sets) which he called the Gesamtkunstwerk, His desire was to interrelate the arts, overcoming traditional classifications and formalist barriers in order to create a single Art, which would recover its vitality and function, and thus make a genuine contribution to society. This is what Fortuny has exactly done throughout his life.
In the early 1900s textiles and fashion played an important part in everyday life. The homes of the middle classes were crammed with fabrics but new styles and designs were beginning to emerge, in tune with the new aesthetic. Both literature and painting reflected the importance of textile as in the words of, Baudelaire “fabrics speak a mute language, like flowers, like skies, like setting suns”. Many artists, either consciously or unconsciously helped give rise to new fashions through their paintings. But the real catalyst for Fortuny to become interested in designing dresses has been the theatre. The sketches that Fortuny has done for the play “ Francesca da Rimini”, they were taken as the costumes of the theatre as they were. However the first appearance of his textile collection has been the Widor Ballet at the Comtesse de Béarn’s house in Paris in 1906 where the ballerinas were wearing his characteristic silk veils, known afterwards as Knossos scarves and were made in countless variations by Fortuny up until 1930s.
His first purely fashion garment was the Knossos scarf. The scarf was made of silk and was rectangular in shape, printed with geometric, asymmetrical patterns and motifs inspired by Cycladic art. The scarves could be used in wrapped, tied and used in a number of ways, allowing great freedom of expression and movement to the human body. It was from these simple scarves, which showed him how to fuse form and fabric, that Fortuny developed his entire production of dresses.
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.
For their full effect, Knossos scarves needed to be worn as embellishments to a particular type of dress. This dress appeared around 1907 and was called the Delphos robe. It is undoubtedly Fortunys most famous creation and eventually became the hallmark of his work. The Delphos robe, which was made of pleated silk and very simply cut, hung loosely from the shoulders and was a revolution for the tightly corseted women of 1907. His dresses can be related to the reform movements of the period: should be artistic, hygienic and functional, and not subject to the whims of fashion which had created a kind of clothing that imprisoned the body like a rigid shell. Also, to an artist, the first thing that the study of the human body teaches is the need to respect it.
The original Delphos gowns had batwing sleeves however numerous variations were subsequently produced, some with short sleeves, some with long, wide sleeves tied at the wrist, and others were sleeveless. They 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 Murano 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. It is still a mystery how the pleats in the Delphos were achieved and there remains much conjecture about the process involved in their creation.The method needed a lot of manual work, since the folds are all different and irregular. They were probably put into the material when it was wet, perhaps still under water, with heat being applied later to ensure that they remained permanent. It is also possible that a piece of thread may have been passed through each group of pleats in order to tighten them for a time.
Today there are Delphos dresses over forty years old whose pleats are still 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.
It was not by chance that Fortuny choose silk, an infinitely adaptable fabric which offer a wide range of possibilities, for his dresses. Shortly after his first work in silk, he began printing on velvet (used for decorative medium and for dresses
He used as many as 15 dyes to achieve the final colour of the dress, which responded to light and movement. The silk was dipped several times, each application enriching the colour, which due to the transparency of the dye, possessed a living quality and gave a changing effect according to light and movement. The irregular appearance of his printed velvets was achieved by using a roller to apply gold or silver powders formulated in a paste. To vary the colour, he then re-touched the printed area by hand with paint
All the dresses were produced in his studio. They were made by hand, individually, as were all the materials that went into them: the pleated and printed silk, the velvets, the cords that were used to gather them or unite the different parts, the linings which were of satin, silk, wool, the belts, the labels Everything was made on the premises, including accessories as the dresses had no pockets, their wearers needed bags, which Fortuny made from his own multi-colored velvet in very simple designs. The pleated silk Delphos gown, patented in 1907, was a design he repeated with subtle variation until his death in 1949. As the Delphos robe didn’t evolve in anything radically different, it is almost impossible to make a chronology of his dresses unless identified on photograph or other documents.
FORTUNY, PROUST AND THE” BEAU MONDE”
At that time no artist or designer really had been able to produce and market a viable model on his own.Fortuny probably has succeded because of the great quality of his products but also due to his strength of character and self confidence. And a large part of his success can be attributed to a small group of admirers attracted to his creations and created a vital link between the solitary worker Fortuny in Venice , and the people in the great cities of Europe and America .
Among them are writers like D’Annunzio and Proust, dancers like Isadora Duncan, silent film star Lillian Gish socialites and aristocrats like Queen Marie of Rumania , Comtesse de Guiche (later Duchesse de Gramont), her mother Comtesse de Greffulhe who served as a model for the character of the Duchesse de Guermant Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past”.
Parisian high society was aware of Fortuny's creations and longed to possess them. These influential women of the beau monde, whose lives Proust was to describe in such minute detail, made him aware of Fortuny. He never used the same design or identical colour combination in any two pieces of fabric. Fortuny's methods of hand dyeing and hand stencilling ensure that no two garments are alike. For instance, Proust spoke of particular velvet as "being of an intense blue which, as my gaze extended over it, was changed into malleable gold, by those same transmutations which, before the advancing gondolas, change into flaming metal the azure of the Grand Canal ."
In fact, on at least sixteen occasions throughout Remembrance of Things Past there are references to Fortuny or to his dresses. In the volume entitled The Captive, Fortuny constitutes a whole leitmotiv and is the only character in the whole of Proust's long work that retains a real-life name and identity. The descriptions, comments and associations go far beyond the needs of literature, reflecting a very real knowledge of and fascination for his dresses.
Proust had an additional reason for being familiar with Fortuny's work and with the artist himself. In 1894 Proust was introduced to Reynaldo Hahn and they became best friends. Reynaldo's sister, Maria, married Fortuny's uncle, Raymundo de Madrazo, in 1899. In 1916 Proust, forever obsessed with detail, wrote to Maria from the Boulevard Haussmann with a series of questions: "Do you know, at least, whether Fortuny has ever used as a decoration for his dressing gowns those pairs of birds, drinking in a vase, for example, which appear so frequently in St. Marks on Byzantine capitals? And do you know if in Venice there are any paintings (I would like some titles) in which any mantles or dresses appear that Fortuny may have (or could have) gained inspiration from?" Maria having replied affirmatively, Proust could write with confidence that Albertine's dress, a gift from the narrator, "swarmed with Arabic ornaments, like the Venetian palaces hidden like sultanas behind a screen of pierced stone, like the bindings in the Ambrosian library, like the columns from which the Oriental birds that symbolized alternatively life and death were repeated in the mirror of the fabric."
It was not until the 1920s that women dared to popularize Fortuny’s dresses as clothing acceptable to be worn outside the home. However unconventional for the time, these dresses were extremely popular for at-home women entertaining and considered primarily tea dresses.
For his textile production, Fortuny designed thousands of patterns throughout his life, often printing the same ones again in different colour combinations. He did not simply copy the old designs; he reinterpreted them to achieve an aesthetic ideal. After all Venice had been an important centre of the Renaissance textile trade with the Orient and the Venetian aesthetic tradition was thus a rich source of ideas. One of his favourite designs was the open pomegranate, which originated from the Chinese lotus flower. He also used many other 15th Century vegetable motifs that came to Europe from Persia and Turkey . He often used Lucca motifs, also has been inspired of European textiles of 17th to 19th Century as well as Creatan, Arabic, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, pre Colombian and Maori, hense he created some of the most remarkable textiles of the 20th century.
Working like an artisan and researching like an alchemist, Fortuny perfected his dyeing and printing techniques, experimenting with all kinds of materials including linen, wool ad others. But above all, he preferred silk and velvet, the oldest and most luxurious fabrics. He imported silk directly from China and Japan . The velvet was very light silk velvet usually imported from France . He bought it in a raw state which was white or slightly creamy.
Printing was the only technique he used for achieving his remarkable effects. The whole process depended on him. He would also produce the dyes, the colours, the blocks or stencils and the machines. First, he employed one of the simplest processes using wooden block, on the same fabric he would apply different colours with other blocks, not necessarily corresponding to the lines of the drawing but would extend to the outlines of the original drawing by capillary action. That was , followed by the development of a stencil method that was a precursor of the rotary silk screen that he patented in 1910 which enabled him to produce a greater quantity of cloth with no lessening of quality.
To achieve the particular crinkled or flaky effects of his velvets, he probably applied the pigments over a natural paste, pressing the colour afterwards to produce a rough texture on the printed areas. He often used this method to apply to gold or silver like powder with which he added further richness to the different colour combinations. Very often the pieces would be retouched in tempera by brush to enhance the effect.
Fortuny's love and obsession was colour in all its intricate subtlety. He made himself an expert in the manufacture, mixing, and application to textiles of dyes especially from natural sources. He never used the chemical colours that could be found everywhere, when almost nobody produced or used natural colours, he made his own. He produced dyes in which he submerged his cloth successively, layer upon layer, in order to produce those rich, mellow colours whose transparency resembled that of the tempera paints he used on his canvases.
For forty years Mariano Fortuny, had continued to improve his techniques of making pigments and dyes and never confided his methods to anyone. The range of colours he achieved was enormous, only for white he had 4 variants. But the end product, a unique and highly individualistic fabric depended mainly on Fortuny’s artistic sense.
Faced with the need to expend as the workshop in Palazzo Orfei was incapable of satisfying the demand for his dresses and textiles, Fortuny established a factory on the island of Giudecca in 1922.
He experimented production with linen, cotton velvets and raw silk but none of these fabrics was sufficiently absorbent in order to give a rich quality and depth of colour as it could be obtain with long staple Egyptian cotton Therefore the factory only produced only cotton material, which was before being dyed washed to avoid further shrinkage, with the printing technique similar to that used for velvet Fortuny, undertook responsibility for the whole process from designing the means of production to training a staff of 100 people in a wide variety of skills, in fact he rarely employed an experienced worker or went outside the factory for technical assistance. In each area of activity, he regarded self- sufficiency as almost a moral principle for an artist.
He also needed to extend his commercial network. In 1920 he opened his own shop in Paris , at 67 rue Pierre Charron, beside Paul Poiret’s boutique, Rosine. In Italy he had another retail outlet in Milan and representatives in Turin , Genova, Roma and Naples . His work was also sold in Madrid , Zurich , London and New York . Hollywood stars of the 1920s and 1930s like Lillian Gish, Dolores del Rio began to appear in his gowns both on and off the screen.
Fortuny’s cotton fabrics became very popular and were widely used for decorative purposes. In 1920 he decorated the gaming rooms of Hotel Excelsior on the Lido of Venice. He did not paper the walls, but hung materials like enormous curtains from rails placed just below ceiling level. Their folds gave a feeling of warmth and movement to the room. He also decorated the Spanish Pavilion in 1924 Biennale in Venice with the same principle.
The interior of the church Chiesa del Redentore in Venice , Espesizione Morelli and Titian room for the Museum of Naples along with Musée Carnavalet, were decorated by Mariano Fortuny. He helped, Francois Boucher , the curator, redesigning Carnavalet Museum which was being expanded and given a whole new image. The artist has created a successful pattern that managed to incorporate the museum’s name which is still today among favourite Fortuny patterns.
Other important activities in Paris is one for his painting: in order to show the quality of his self made tempera colours, he held his only one man show of his life along with the show in Milan, in 1934 at the Galerie Hector Brame where he displayed 32 paintings. And a theatre dome, one of his inventions, which was among many other places, has been installed in the Paris theatre in the Avenue Bosquet in 1906.
Although he enjoyed great success in 20s and 30s, his personal worries never revealed in the numerous articles which were written about him at the time. The press spoke glowingly of his achievements yet there was a constant note of sadness to this period in Fortuny’s life. Within three years, he lost 3 of the people closest to him: his mother in 1932, his sister and his cousin and childhood friend Coco de Madrazo in 1936.
Financially, the Great Depression, the Spanish civil war and especially the 2nd World war caused him many problems in terms of the scarcity of raw material in order to secure production, having difficulties to reach important markets like US. When the factory reopened after the war, the market in America had already changed. In Europe, the Paris shop was already gone, and all his distribution network had to be re-established. Past 70, he still seemed an imposing figure but his strength was waning. He spent his last years by painting, rather self assessment and introspection. When he died in 1949, he left behind a devastated wife, Henriette, clueless how to continue and no offspring.
At this point the Fortuny business would undoubtedly have folded but Elsie Lee McNeill, a New York interior designer, who had founded Fortuny Inc. in 1927 to import the fabrics and dresses for the US market, as she did during the Depression, once again came to rescue. Finding herself in the same state of Henriette Fortuny, (by a bizarre twist of fate, on the eve of their hurried departure for Venice to comfort Henriette, her husband was killed in a car crash), Elsie McNeill decided to buy the company and move to Venice., The Countess Gozzi (later she married Count Gozzi) continued to work full-time the Giudecca factory and its offices until she died in 1994, well over 100 years old. Thanks to her efforts and her admiration to Fortuny, there is still the production of his textile with its original method, still kept as a secret. After her death, the company was set up again by Maged F. Riad, the countess's lawyer, to assure the future of the Giudecca factory after her death as there were no heirs neither from Fortuny nor from the Countess Gozzi side.
Today the Guidecca factory is still active and uses exactly the same methods as Fortuny did. With the same printing methods, by mixing their own colours and using mineral and organic ingredients according to Fortuny’s formula. These techniques still remain a secret known only those who produce the fabrics in the factory. About 80 percent of the work is done by hand
The factory, which employs 30 people, now only produces textiles: about 24,000 meters of two kinds of cotton fabric, (Maco and the slightly heavier Serge) annually. The last Delphos dress was made as long ago as 1952 and after Henrietta’s death in 1965 sales have been completely stopped as Fortuny didn’t want Delphos be produced after her death. Also finding material, already when Fortuny was alive became too difficult. The process wouldn’t work if the incredibly fine Japanese silk was no longer available.
However at Fortuny there is a very good archive over 800 designs. Each year around 40 designs are produced including the favourites Carnavalet , Lucrezia, De Medici, Glicine, Granada and Moresco. Others gradually change over the years according to taste. The production (each run is 500 m and the material is 1.5m wide) is done based on order of the clients. The delivery times are about 4 months, but in the past it went up to 2 years-during time when demand is really high.
Fortuny has representatives in England , France , Germany , Holland , Belgium , South Africa and Hong Kong, and Fortuny Inc. still exists in the United States . There have been 3 representatives in Italy . In Venice , the sole outlet for the real Fortuny is an antiques shop: V.Trois, who is no longer qualified to sell new production.
These fabrics are intended for wall hangings and furnishings. If they are stretched on wooden frames as wall coverings, and vacuumed, they will last a lifetime and more (Usage of them in making clothes, bags and even shoes are not advised by the factory)
Because of Elsie Lee Gozzi’s passionate interest in Fortuny, he became better known in America than in Europe . European museums did not begin to acquire his work until the mid 60s. Although the business kept operating, thanks to few loyal clients, by the 1960s Fortuny's name had been all-but forgotten.
Then, in Lyon , the centre of the French textile industry, which for years provided Fortuny with his velvets, began examining his methods of working but were still unable to discover how he achieved some of his remarkable results. The mixture of different techniques, blocking, stencils, brush on the same length of fabric, obtaining real gold and silver effects, were very difficult to determine. These investigations were the basis for one of the largest exhibitions of his work ever assembled. The exhibition, covering all aspects of Fortuny's life, opened in 1980, at the Musée Historique des Tissus in Lyon and lasted over 2 years, travelling from France to England and then to the United State. This created a sudden explosion of renewed interest in Fortuny and his fabrics.
REVIVAL OR COPY?
The second revival came in the 90s when a Venetian architect named Alessandro claimed to have rediscovered the method. With a partner, Mr. Alessandro formed Venetia Studium, and began to turn out, for astronomical sums, reproductions of the classic Fortuny dresses.
Venetia Studium buys silk from China , then pleats it and dyes it into many different and beautiful shades. Fortuny used iridescent beads of Murano glass to outline the seams of his classic Grecian gowns; Venetia Studium uses the same beads to edge a scarf or a pillow. The scarves come in several sizes and cost from $90 to $270; pillows are from $27 to $62, depending on size. The pleated silk is also folded diaper fashion to make small, fat evening bags; these tie with a drawstring and cost $85. Should you covet a full-scale Delphos dress (there is usually one on display in the shop), the staff will steer you to the Venetia Studium workshop, near the Fenice Theatre. The dresses cost from $1,550 to $3,100. Venetia Studium today also produces Fortuny lamps and full interior decorations.
In the 90s there were many Venetian shops offering Fortuny-style goods of varying quality. There is one workshop which attracted special attention, the one run by Arianna da Venezia. She spent 20 years as a picture restorer at the Fortuny Museum , which eventually led to her interest in fabrics. In her workshop, with the help of three young women, she dyes and block prints heavy cottons and sensuous velvets in subtle and sumptuous colours, as Fortuny would have worked in his workshop. The New York Times lists the following items: (July 28th, 1991)”. Drapery lengths of velvet -- they are about 6 1/2 feet long by about 90 inches wide -- are about $500 a pair; double-width drapes are about $925; decorative cushions, to mix or match, range from $23 to $230, depending on size. For those who would rather dress themselves than their houses, there are such offerings as ample scarves of printed velvet”
While Countess Gozzi was still alive and working, people didn't dare make copies, but there are many now. Even a quick search on the Internet shows how much Fortuny in one way or other is solicited: Pegge Goertzen claims that she uses Fortuny fabrics in the design of her Zanzara handbags, Smith &Ross explains the usage of Fortuny fabrics in its exclusive decorative designs. The Datush Museum of Art in New York sells ties with Fortuny fabric patterns in its museum shop. There are even sites containing instructions for quick methods of faking Fortuny pleats by Tara Maginnis and Loraine Pettit.
The owner of the Paris showroom of Fortuny, Ms Suzy Langlois says,” so far they've never come close to the originals. Because the point is the materials we use are very expensive and there's so much hand-working that they're very costly to make the production technique is still unknown.”
In love with Fortuny fabrics, she has been selling them for 25 years and having personally met Countess Gozzi, she adds” Today in Paris, people don’t really know about Fortuny and even though they appreciated its quality when explained, they simply think it is too expensive to buy. Today we have a new clientele, much less cultivated, preferring to spend their money on other things. However the difference is so clear to her expert eyes. While showing some pieces of her own Fortuny collection, she doesn’t miss the moment to mention how she can identify the fake, even if the call comes from a prestigious hotel in Paris to renovate what they believe to be Fortuny textiles. For her, except for a very few, Fortuny has gone into oblivion and her wish is to be able to spend much more time on promoting it.
FORTUNY INFLUENCE IN INTERIOR DECORATION
The modernity and functionality of Fortuny’s pleat was equalled in his other textiles, and his eye for dressing a room equalled his skill at dressing a woman. The attraction of his fabrics is present today in the work of famous interior architects. One of the world's most admired and influential interior designers, John Saladino uses Fortuny in a special limited way. He often makes modern tapestries, over scaled toss pillows and tablecloths with it. He never uses it on sofas or draperies but as bedcovers or bed boards as the pattern is very powerful. John Saladino designs furniture, apartments, corporate headquarters and even landscapes. When it comes to his own home -- a converted 1860s Manhattan carriage house -, a romantic by nature, a minimalist by training, and a classicist by choice, he brings elements of past aesthetics into the 20th century where he combines 18th Century English painted chairs with Fortuny pillows.
Arizona based interior designer Nancy Kitchen not only uses Fortuny fabrics on bedspreads but also on upholstery and draperies and her favourite application is lining for silk draperies.
Named one of Architectural Digest's top 100 designers and noted for her light touch with palettes and casually chic home designs, Manhattan based interior designer Victoria Hagan is also among the designers who prized Fortuny fabrics. Pillows belonging to her last designs developed for “Target” are a good example of a modern interpretation of Fortuny.
Named by House Beautiful magazine as one of America 's Most Brilliant Decorators for ten consecutive years, recognized as one of the most stylish and influential of today's interior designers, Benjamin Noriega Ortiz wraps Fortuny fabrics on simple, drum shaped modern lampshades. He also uses them as elegant table clothes or even on a sofa in the family room as they last a long time. Noriega-Ortiz's works include residences for media mogul Michael Fuchs, rock star Lenny Kravitz, author Laura Esquivel, and photographer Mark Seliger. Among others, he redesigned the Cartier store on Fifth Avenue in New York and the global lifestyle hotel group’s W Vieques - Martineau Bay .
In his projects, he captures an unusual sense of openness and light through the use of colour, materials, architecture, and the integration of fashion in a rather timeless style.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has used nearly 1000 yards of Fortuny fabric for the walls of its galleries housing European Renaissance paintings and Fortuny textiles have been used for the draperies and upholstery of Blair House in Washington D.C.
ISSEY MIYAKE – A MODERN REINCARNATION
One of the world's most innovative fashion designers, Issey Miyake refers to his designs not as clothing, or ready-to-wear ensembles, but rather as art pieces. The winner of nearly every fashion award, he is known to dislike the title "fashion designer" and prefers to be considered an artist whose medium is fabric. Two of Miyake's most popular lines are the Pleats Please, developed in 1993, prints that are permanently pleated, and A-POC (A Piece of Cloth), developed in 1999, a technique for manufacturing shirts and dresses from a single piece of cloth that requires no sewing.
His experiments in the late 80s, on materials that would allow both flexibility of movement for the wearer as well as ease of care and production, resulted in the launch of his innovation and flagship design concept "Pleats Please" in which the garments are cut and sewn first, then sandwiched between layers of paper and fed into a heat press, where they are pleated. The fabric's 'memory' holds the pleats and when the garments are liberated from their paper cocoon. They are ready-to wear. Made from single pieces of high quality 100% polyester fabric, the clothes are cut and sewn together two-and-a-half to three times larger than the finished garments. Individual pieces are hand fed into a heat press, sandwiched between two sheets of paper. This industrial process allows both texture and form to be created at the same time. Vertical, horizontal and zigzag pleating is used to create varying effects and architectural shapes.
Pleats Please clothes are very functional and practical; the garments store easily, travel well, require no ironing and can be machine-washed and dried within minutes. Shapes are simple, colours diverse. A set of standard colours is available each season, to which are added seasonal colours and prints.
PLEATS PLEASE and Issey Miyake, with his radical but eminently practical and universal form of contemporary clothing that combines technology, functionality and beauty, were also subject to an exhibition at the Pompidou Center:, BIG BANG, Destruction et Creation dans l'art du XX Siecle.
Fans of his designs often behave like art collectors, dusting off treasured vintage pieces to exhibit--on themselves--over and over again. That's not something that can be said of many designers in an era in which trends last but a minute.
Doesn’t it all sound similar to the creation of Delphos’s dresses at the beginning of the Century and the appraisal it got? Wasn’t Fortuny in fact the forerunner to Issey Miyake's efforts?
"Issey changed the concept of clothing," said designer Kenzo, who has known Miyake since his university and Paris days "He has a Japanese side to him, but it's very modern, very simple, more futuristic." And in the words of Issey Miyake, doesn’t he sound like a reincarnation of Fortuny in his perception of life and art: "All I can do is to keep experimenting, keep developing my thoughts further. Certain people think that the definition of design is the beauty of the useful, but in my own work I want to integrate feelings, emotion. You have to put life into it. Isn’t there a confirmation of it and a homage to Guillermo de Osma, when one reads the Time article of August 23rd, 1999 «What Miyake does so exquisitely is to put life into art, and art into life.
SUGGESTIONS FOR ANOTHER FORTUNY REVIVAL
There are many examples from which one can draw some inspiration for a Fortuny revival. If Fortuny hadn’t belonged to a family but a big group, it would have been somewhere else in its results today. For instance, if it had belonged to the LVMH group, it would certainly have benefited from a much bigger marketing and communication investment. Fortuny could have been a great candidate to apply the LVMH formula, as perfectly outlined in Fortune ( Sept 6th ,2004) in the words of Bernard Arnault:” Sharply define the brand identity--or "DNA," as he puts it--by mining the brand's history and finding the right designer to express it; tightly control quality and distribution; and create masterful marketing buzz.”
There are some great examples of brand revivals and rejuvenation, from which one can learn. To mention but two of them: Pringle of Scotland and Rubelli.
PRINGLE OF SCOTLAND
A leading Scottish knitwear manufacturer, the company was formed in 1815 by Robert Pringle and his partners. It was known for its cashmere twin sets, the brand worn by members of the Royal Family. In 1948, Pringle was granted its first royal warrant by Queen Elisabeth and in 1956 a second for Queen Elisabeth II. From 1940 to the 1970s, it was the only thing for the movie stars and the debutants to be seen in. Grace Kelly even bought some Pringle cashmeres for her honeymoon. In 1967 it changed hands, its primary market became golf clothing and it found itself in 2000 perceived primarily as a golf wear brand, with 90% of its sales discounted and leading to lousy financial results, and without any cashmere in its collection. Under its new Hong Kong based owner, Pringle started a radical revival by closing all licenses, and controlling its image and quality. It improved drastically its quality and kept on producing in its Scotland facilities, although it was much more costly then producing elsewhere. It was very important for Pringle to get back to its essence, be able to claim “produced in Scotland ”, and recover its heritage. Cashmere twin sets were introduced again, but also a new glamorous, sexy, and stylish fashion was launched. Through word of mouth and PR it attracted the interest of movie stars and famous people. Today Pringle is one of the hip brands, used by Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna, Robbie Williams and David Beckham. Its secret: getting back to the essence and connecting with the influential.
Leader in Italy in its field, the firm RUBELLI, founded in 1858 in Venice , produces hand-made fabrics using traditional techniques and highly sophisticated textiles, combined with high technology, both in their conception and production. Similar to Fortuny in its quest for quality, it produces precious hand –woven silk, velvet, cotton taffeta and lace by using among others, block printing techniques.
Rubelli fabrics are used worldwide in prestigious theatres, museums and “chateaux” in Europe, in Royal houses such as those of the United Kingdom , Spain , Denmark , Saudi Arabia and Jordan . Rubelli is present through showrooms in main cities of Italy , Paris , Cannes , Brussels , Munich , London , Moscow , Dubai and New York .
Although a family owned company, it was restructured in 2001 by merging 3 brands to create one more efficient and structured international company: Rubelli SpA. In order to rejuvenate the brand, Rubelli started to work with the Parisian designer Dominique Kieffer, for a modern and contemporary collection launched in 2007, as the beginning of a young, parallel line.
Rubelli is a good example of PR on how to promote the aspirational, historical and prestigious side of their textiles by participating in different activities: Rubelli fabrics have been used for the costumes of Marie Antoinette, the movie which also won an Oscar for best costume design. This is not the first time that Rubelli has supplied products for major film productions. They designed and produced precious damask and lampas fabrics for “Dangerous Liaisons”, another Oscar winning movie in 1988, and contributed to films such as Harry Potter, Valmont, Elizabeth , the latest version of Casanova (released in February 2006) and many period productions by the Italian RAI and Mediaset networks.
Rubelli has also taken part in the restoration of the Venice opera house, La Fenice , after its burning down in 1989. It provided all the fabrics for the remaking of the Apollines Room, as well as supervised all renovation activities. Today Rubelli also uses the venue for its PR activities, such as private opera evenings, and sells its textiles ( la Fenice cushions) in the Theatre’s shop.
FRUITFUL THOUGHTS FOR A FORTUNY BUZZ BY MINING THE BRAND’ S HISTORY
- Revive a Fortuny Shop in Paris , exactly at Rue Charron 67: This shop would sell Fortuny textiles but also a rejuvenated version of Delphos, as a parallel line, interpreted by a famous designer.
Timeless garments are more than ever in demand. (Due to client pressure, Dior is trying to come up with a Dior two-piece, like the timeless ones of Chanel)
- Start projects with Musée Carnavalet for the renovation of some rooms(for example Proust’s room), organize lectures about Fortuny or name a room after Fortuny, as Fortuny had named one of his patterns after Carnavalet.
- Decorate the walls of other museums, such as at Musée des Arts Décoratif, offer a special price.
- Organize a retrospective of Fortuny, this time in Paris instead of Lyon to create much more buzz
- Sponsor performances at Opéra Garnier: for example, the costumes and decor of the ballet production of Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past”.
- Start a book project about the Ballet Russe in Paris , in relation to Fortuny and others as they have influenced each other.
- Develop textile items for the gift shop of the Opera House.
- Approach famous places, famous designers: Costes brothers, Philip Starck , famous Parisian hotels Lutetia, Plaza, George V etc
- Repeat Fortuny’s only one man show at Gallery Hector Brame in Paris Nov 1935
- Participate in big movie productions like “Molière “in France, and others.
- Propose a retrospective of Fortuny to the to Bienale di Venezia to which Fortuny has participated throughout his life.
- Participate in the Wagner festival in Bayreuth- Germany , with an exhibition of Fortuny drawings inspired by the work of Wagner.
- Develop a gift book for the clients of Fortuny, explaining in detail who Fortuny was and how special his techniques still are, by making the point of how unique their purchase is.
- Reach the opinion leaders, famous and influential people. Make them love and use Fortuny textiles. Use the buzz, make your brand enviable.
And continue to do as it has done perfectly in the past: Stay small, controlled, mysterious but aspirational.
Mariano Fortuny created some of the most remarkable fabrics and dresses of this century. His pleated silk gowns and velvet cloaks are regarded by collectors and museums around the world as the unique expression and embodiment of a craft at its best. Fortuny designs have endured as timeless works of art. His creations transcend the rigid dictates of fashion. He invented “Fashion outside Fashion” The beauty of his garments lies in their elegant simplicity, the perfect cut, the quality of the material and the sensuality of the colours. All these elements, perfectly integrated, make a Fortuny garment a work of art.
As far as the textiles are concerned, no doubt, the secrecy of the production technique contributed to the mythic stature of the textiles. But their real uniqueness comes from Fortuny’s elusive sense of colour, how it changes subtly over the passage of time, the lyrical and imprecise translation of the motif. The metallic pigments he so often used are subject to change over time and atmosphere. They oxidize in a way no other fabric house has been able to copy and make each piece as personalised it can get. Collectors who appreciate his work most are surely those who value such enigmas.
"Art is my life's aim." he said. His work is a living testament to his fidelity to that ideal.
It would be too bad not to spread the legend.
Mariano Fortuny,: His Life and Work – Guillermo de Osma, Aurum Press 1980
Fortuny- Delphine Desveaux, Editions Assouline,1998
International Herald Tribune, “ Fashion In Cool Climates”, Conference, Dec 2004
Interview with Suzy Langlois
Various websites and newspaper articles