Me & Mariano
I first met Mariano in the spring of 2000. I’d known of him for years, told his story numerous times, worked on the machines he invented with the techniques he developed, but my introduction to the Fortuny company would forever be through Countess Elsie Lee Gozzi.
Nearly three decades after her passing, clients in our showroom continue to regale us with stories of the Countess, if that’s any indication of her larger-than-life personality. When my siblings and I first met her on our first visit to Venice in 1986, we were mostly enamored with the natural wonder of this floating city and largely unaware of the magic taking place inside the factory walls. It would be years before we would learn that she brought us there to continue trying to convince my father to purchase the company from her and that he was the only non-Fortuny worker that she ever allowed beyond the factory doors.
At the time, my sister, brother, and I were 8, 10, and 12 years old, respectively. Largely intimidated by the Countess, we spent most of our time mesmerized by the parade of boats, racing snails on the fondamenta, and chasing lizards in the factory garden. (We finally managed to catch one after two days, only to have our excitement dashed when we learned our scaly new Italian friend would neither be joining us at our hotel nor for our voyage back to the States. At least we stayed true to our promise never to forget you, Lizardo Salamondo.)
I began my career with Fortuny on my second trip to Venice, in 1994, shortly after the death of the Countess, though it took several years before I would gain access to the Museo Fortuny. After years of unsuccessful attempts to visit Mariano Fortuny’s former home, birthplace to his more than 20 patents, my brother and I met the museum’s chief archivist, Claudio Franzini, a professor and photographer in whom we found a kinship through our mutual love for Fortuny. He did not speak English, and, at the time, we did not yet know how to converse in Italian. Still, we managed to communicate enough to share our admiration for Mariano Fortuny and he invited us to visit him at the museum that week.
Standing before the door at our appointed time, we pressed the bell, the echoes of its metallic ringing announcing our arrival. Stepping through the wall into the open-air entry, we noticed the atmosphere in the courtyard had a different quality to it, charged as if before a storm. Quiet like a cloister, the ground beneath us felt sacred, almost demanding one speak in hushed tones. We soaked it all in silently as we awaited Claudio.
Appearing on the balcony of the piano nobile, he waved and descended a few steps, motioning for us to climb up to meet him. We entered the space I had seen only in books, and while it took a moment for our eyes to acclimate to the darkness, the feeling I had – the awe and reverence, an anticipation leading to more than you expected – will never be forgotten. It is impossible to forget simply because it occurs every time I visit the museum, no matter how many times I’ve had the privilege to go. It is very similar to the emotion I experience every time I arrive in Venice, a place my soul awakens to converse with the what was and the yet to be. It never ceases to amaze, inspire, and humble me.
Seeing fabrics that were made by him in the factory where we continue to produce them today, in the glow of the light he conceived them in, hanging on the walls the way he placed them, adorned with his paintings alongside those of his father, witnessing the fabric paneled shelves holding the fabric covered books in his library, the desk and chair where his inventions took seed, the cane that supported him in his later years, this was where I finally met Mariano and began to understand the magnanimity of shepherding his legacy.
It was then I learned to differentiate between his presence at the factory and that of the Countess, that of the artist inventor and that of the visionary businesswoman with impeccable style. I also began to recognize where they overlap, how they depend on and feed each other.
There are many spirits in Venice, and more than a few at our factory and home, but as I explained to our superstitious colleagues who nervously confessed to me one day that our house at the factory is most likely haunted, the phantoms that live there are happy ones. I like to believe they are content with the work being done to carry on their traditions, their stories, and their names, as we usher this company into the chapters of its next century.
Born in a house near the gates below the famed Alhambra in Granada, many of Mariano Fortuny’s earliest inspirations came from the Moorish architecture and gardens inside the palace walls. Patterns like Granada, Catalano, Moresco, Spagnolo, and Murillo draw from the rich culture of Mariano’s motherland.
In 1922, when production at the Fortuny factory in Venice began, the first design Mariano printed was Granada. The pattern of delicate jasmine blossoms is still produced today nearly a century later. Similar to Granada, the ivy design of Catalano was one the artist frequently returned to throughout his work. Originally used in Mariano’s tapestries, the motif can be seen in his velvet garments and was later refined for printed cottons.
The 17th-century-inspired design Spagnolo is like an intricately designed gate, winding across the surface, tangled in vines and leafy tendrils while supporting a lush, seemingly mid-bloom pomegranate motif. Simply called “Spagnolo,” Mariano’s design is a powerful homage to his family’s heritage as artists and patrons of the arts.
Another early pattern of Mariano’s was Moresco, one of the earliest patterns he ever produced. Influenced by Moorish compositions which decorate the Alhambra palace, the design is a dense motif of both geometric and organic shapes. Moresco is a celebration of the centuries of art and culture that flourished during the Arab rule of the Iberian Peninsula.
Mariano’s design Murillo commemorates the Spanish Baroque painter Bartolome Esteban Murillo, known for his rich colors and soft forms, with a simple, iconic leaf pattern in a geometric grid formation.
Mariano Fortuny may have only lived in Spain for a short time, but his connection to his birthplace remained a steadfast inspiration throughout his life and work.
FTY NYC: Fashion x Fortuny
When I first started working in Fortuny’s New York Showroom, I had never experienced art like Mariano Fortuny’s printed textiles. I felt like I was in a museum, but one where I was encouraged to touch the art. Since that moment, I’ve had the opportunity to handle vintage pieces dating back to the 1920s — pieces Mariano himself printed. But the most magical moment thus far was seeing two original silk-velvet gowns from the Riad family’s archives.
For a fleeting moment, the dresses passed through the showroom; a pit stop on their way to England for a possible cameo in a certain upstairs/downstairs movie coming out this winter. I was immediately lost in the depths of rich red fabric before me. Running my hand across the fine fabric, I felt history gliding through my fingers — images of the 20th century’s most prominent ladies luxuriating in the form-fitting, long pleats of Fortuny’s unique and groundbreaking creation: the Delphos gown.
Created by Fortuny and his wife Henriette, the first Delphos was purchased in September 1909 by Marchesa Luisa Casati, the Italian heiress and patron of the arts. Following Casati, dancers and actresses like Isadora Duncan and Eleanora Duse were among the first to wear some of Mariano’s earliest renditions of the Delphos gown. The secret to his success, other than the actual secret process for creating his textiles, was the way his dresses freed the female body from the structured designs women were confined to for centuries.
Shortly after Mariano’s death in 1949, Henriette ceased production of the dresses, but the popularity and notoriety of his designs continued. In the 1950s, Peggy Guggenheim was often photographed wearing one of her many Delphos gowns. Vogue featured a spread of Gloria Vanderbilt in the Delphos gown in 1969, recalling her first time seeing the dress in Elsie McNeill’s Madison Avenue shop. American actress Lauren Bacall was seen on the red carpet for the 1979 Oscars dressed in a magenta Delphos gown. It is still considered one of the most iconic vintage Oscar appearances.
More recently, the elegance and rarity of Mariano’s gowns are reserved for moments that call for more than just a fashion designer but an artist, a creator of fabrics. The Met Gala is one of the most important nights in fashion, and even 60+ years after Mariano’s death, his designs continued to steal the runway. Model, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova wore an original fiery red Delphos to 2009’s “The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion.” In 2016 the actress and entrepreneur Ashley Olsen looked timeless in a gold velvet Fortuny cape, emphasizing the superiority and the artistry of the handmade for “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology.”
Today, Mariano’s dresses are included in numerous museum collections throughout the world, including the Palais Galliera and The Metropolitan Museum, and have been featured in film. Considered an innovator ahead of his time, the work of Mariano Fortuny is still a mystery today. Though many have tried to recreate the iconic designs, no one has duplicated the process in quite the same way.
I look forward to the day when I get to see a Delphos in front of me again. Who knows, maybe next time I’ll be able to try it on!
INSIDE: The Studio
Not everyone is so lucky, or even so inclined, to have an art studio in their home. But a personal space for creativity– even if it is just a corner in the back of one’s mind– should be a playground for impulse. Forget the decorator (sorry to our clients!). This space should be all you, all over the place. A feast for the eyes. A comfort for your every desire.
Instead of featuring a palette of nicely matched colorways, we’re mashing together some of our favorites from Fortuny collections new and old. Mariano Fortuny’s parents, Maria and Cecilia, were important textile collectors, displaying their fine fabrics draped over every surface in their homes and painting studios. Forget maximalism or grandmillennial chic, this is horror vacui. As an ode to limitless possibilities, this month’s selection includes classic damask-style prints alongside minimal geometric and leafy florals.
Get creative while you groove to this month’s playlist dedicated to The Studio.