In his time, Mariano Fortuny was acclaimed as an iconic Renaissance man. An artist, inventor, and designer, no one word could encapsulate the rare combination of creative brilliance and bold entrepreneurship that he possessed. His contributions revolutionized the industries of textiles, fashion, lighting, and theatre and continue to influence many of today’s cultural luminaries and tastemakers.
Mariano Fortuny is born into a renowned family of artists in Granada, Spain.
Mariano Fortuny’s father, Mariano Fortuny y Marsal, passes away in Rome. Though Fortuny was only three, he and his father had formed an unusually strong emotional bond. Soon after, Fortuny’s mother moves the family to Paris.
Early on, Fortuny developed a curiosity for understanding things – how they were put together, what they were made of, and how they became what they were. His diverse methods of creativity differentiated him from his contemporaries. He approached his work through the perspectives of art, technology, and science.
Fortuny’s mother, Doña Cecilia, moves the family to Venice. The city, so special and unique, makes his faith in the past a source of inspiration. It is here that Fortuny establishes himself for the rest of his life and career.
In 1897, Fortuny meets Henriette Negrin, a Parisian who later becomes his model, muse and wife.
Fortuny creates the Delphos gown – described by Marcel Proust as “faithfully antique but markedly original.” The simplicity and timeless quality of his garments have made them permanently up-to-date.
Before the Delphos gown, Fortuny begins his work in fashion and textiles by creating the Knossos scarf which is designed for theater and quickly becomes popular. Fortuny continues production until the 1930s
Fortuny works untiringly in his marvelous laboratory, the Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei, today the Museo Fortuny. Shutting himself away from the world, he dedicates himself to diverse and ambitious projects.
With increased demand for his work, Fortuny decides to move his work space out of his home to accommodate a bigger scale production. The current day Giudecca factory opens its door in 1921, in a convent by the water. Due to the increase in price and scarcity of silk at this time, Fortuny experimented with a more readily available material – cotton. His methods to treat cotton is a well guarded secret that is still being used to produce Fortuny’s fabrics today.
New York interior designer Elsie McNeill Lee sees Fortuny’s fabrics hanging in the Carnavalet Museum in Paris and falls in love with them. She travels to Venice to meet with the artist and convinces him she should be the exclusive American distributor of his fabrics.
Elsie returns to New York and opens a shop at 509 Madison Ave. She becomes the exclusive US distributor of Fortuny’s fabrics and dresses – popularizing them across the county.
Fortuny dies in 1949. Upon Henriette’s request, Elsie takes over the factory on Giudecca and the company. She later marries Italian Count Alvise Gozzi and becomes Countess Elsie Lee Gozzi, or La Contessa.
Elsie splits her time between running the showroom in New York and running the factory in Venice. She stays involved in all aspects of production – supervising every yard of fabric from its printing to its marketing – and also creating new designs.
The Riad Family
The Countess asks her trusted confidante, Maged Riad, to purchase the company from her in the early 1980’s. Maged declines her offer, but the Countess refuses to take no for an answer. After years of convincing, Maged finally agrees to her wishes and purchases the company from her in 1988. The Countess continues to manage the company and oversee production.
The Countess dies on April 15 and the Riad family begins handling the day to day operations of the company. Soon after, Maged passes the company’s management to his sons, Mickey and Maury.