A Paris Education

Fortuny’s first showroom on Rue Pierre Charon, Paris, circa 1937, set against Sfingi in white, tan & black. 

Like Venice, Paris is a museum city of a different era. Around every corner, the progress and romance of the 19th century delight Parisians and tourists alike with a sense of awe toward human accomplishment in arts & culture, technology, architecture, and more. The Belle Epoque was the height of elegance, a time when the City of Light twinkled and the rest of the world watched.

Paris at the precipice–leaving behind a grander past, headed toward a brighter future– was where Mariano Fortuny’s artistic education made its greatest strides. Between his mother’s musical soirees, his Uncle Raymundo de Madrazo y Garreta’s painting studio, and trips to the ballet with the painter Giovanni Boldini, art consumed the young, impressionable boy. 

While the Impressionists and Symbolists took up the avant-garde at the time, their splashy, controversial approach did little for Fortuny. Instead, he diligently studied the techniques of the Old Masters, and the more traditional styles practiced by his father’s generation. While others relentlessly pursued new forms, Fortuny reimagined and reinterpreted old ones. His work showed that the past could have new meaning in a different light. 

This true spirit of innovation drove Fortuny’s passions in theater, fashion, textile design, and art. The result in all of these fields is a style that never goes out of style.

But by 1889, after 14 years in Paris, Fortuny’s mother found the city too expensive, too noisy, and too full of tourists, so she moved the family to Venice. While Venice quickly became their adopted home and was the city where Fortuny made his name, Paris was his education in style and art.

 

The Chateau Malmaison set against Malmaison in blue & gold stripes on Rembrandt rust. 

MALMAISON: Napoleon’s Stripes

The Chateau Malmaison, the once derelict estate on the outskirts of Paris, was Josephine Bonaparte’s greatest project. The house is still famous today for its extraordinary gardens, which during Josephine’s lifetime cultivated over 200 plants never before seen in France, as well as for the house’s status as the primary example of Consulate or early Empire Style. 

Never far from the battlefield in Napolean Bonaparte’s mind, the architects modeled the new entry after his striped military tent– his home away from home. Inside Malmaison, the theme continued in the Consul’s Chamber, where the same striped military fabrics covered the walls and ceiling. 

While the Malmaison was in private hands during Fortuny’s youth in Paris, by 1905 the Chateau was donated to the state and opened as a museum. The synthesizing of styles– from Antiquity to Renaissance– by the Malmaison’s architects demonstrated, much like Fortuny’s own work, how the past could be made relevant. Fortuny’s pattern inspired by the military stripes adorning the Malmaison is still produced by our factory today.

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