History

Fortuny History 010

The artist

Our founder, Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo, was born in 1871 in Granada, Spain, to a renowned family of artists. When Fortuny was three, his father died suddenly — a loss he carried the rest of his life. After his father’s death, his mother moved the family first to Paris, where the young Fortuny spent his formative years, and then to Venice. Here within the city’s quintessential light and history, Fortuny made his faith in the past a source of inspiration and established himself as an astoundingly inventive artist.

Scansione 2
Fortuny at his easel square

A life of love and wonder

With his wife and collaborator Henriette Negrin by his side, Fortuny dedicated himself to diverse and ambitious projects in their extraordinary studio and home in Venice, the Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei — today, the public Museo Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo. In the summer of 1922, responding to ever-growing demands for their products, Fortuny and Negrin opened the doors of the factory in Giudecca, the same factory operating today.

Fortuny History 003

The factory

Built on the grounds of an ancient convent, the inner workings of the factory remain secret 100 years later. Our founder's will holds that the techniques used to create the iconic fabrics were never to be revealed publicly.
Though our production studios are not open to the public, we welcome you to visit our showroom and gardens at the factory’s historic property on Giudecca Island.

Building Black
“There is an ongoing knowledge transfer between artists who continue uncovering the DNA of our roots to illuminate the way forward.”

Mickey Riad, Creative Director

Fortuny’s methods are passed down among generations of artists who continue creating new work with the techniques and machines from our founding.

Fortuny History 002

The magician of Venice

From his early beginnings, Fortuny’s deep curiosity about how things work, what they are made of, and how they become what they are led him to approach work through interdisciplinary lenses of art, technology, and science.

He was inspired by ancient Venice, Greece, Egypt, Florence, Persia, Asia, South America, and the Far East. Transforming historic source material into distinctively modern expressions, his innovative methods of creativity differentiate him from his contemporaries.

Fortuny created his own formulations of dyes and pigments based on ancient techniques of the masters, giving his materials an aura of authentic antiquity. Incredibly durable with an otherworldly essence, his pieces were so mystifying that rumors of sorcery and magic abounded and Fortuny came to be known as the “magician of Venice.”

Fortuny History 011

Beauty in motion

The iconic Knossos, a lushly printed silk scarf, swirled across the Parisian fashion scene for the first time in 1906, after being worn by dancers at a ballet.

As the 1920s ushered in an era of change, Fortuny’s signature gown, the Delphos, was coveted among modern women seeking freedom of movement and expression, including Eleonora Duse, Isadora Duncan, Ellen Terry, and Oona Chaplin.

Donna png
Modella Fortuny 01
Fortuny History 006
“The Fortuny gown which Albertine was wearing that evening seemed to me the tempting phantom of that invisible Venice.”

Marcel Proust, "In Search of Lost Time”

Illuminating new worlds

Fortuny found lifelong inspiration in the performing arts, contributing to the form through innovations in lighting and set design that forever transformed the way audiences experience stage events. An avid inventor, he registered twenty patents, fathered one of the first dimmer switches, invented a boat propeller, and made his own paints, dyes, brushes, and machinery.

Architettura png

Carrying the magic forward

Strolling through the Carnavalet Museum in Paris in 1927, esteemed New York interior designer Elsie McNeill Lee encountered Fortuny’s fabrics for the first time and went on to be his sole distributor. After Fortuny’s passing, she ran the company for over forty years, marrying the Italian Count Alvise Gozzi in 1959 to become Countess Elsie Lee Gozzi. In the late 1980s, the Countess persuaded her trusted confidante Maged Riad to take the helm at Fortuny. Today Riad’s sons, Mickey and Maury, lead Fortuny into a new century.

Fortuny History 004
Fortuny History 005
“The Fortuny factory today is a vibrant and historic home of creativity for artists to make new generations of work.”

Alberto Torsello, Artistic Director