The fashion of love
“MA FEMME ET MOI, MOUS AVONS FONDÉ, AU PALAZZO ORFEI UN ATELIER D'IMPRESSION SUIVANT UNE MÉTHODE ENTIÈREMENT NOUVELLE...CETTE INDUSTRIE A COMMENCÉ PAR DES CHÂLES EN SOIE ET S'EST DÉVELOPPÉE AVEC DES ROBES.”
"MY WIFE AND I FOUNDED A PRINTING WORKSHOP AT PALAZZO ORFEI USING AN ENTIRELY NEW METHOD...THIS INDUSTRY BEGAN WITH SILK SHAWLS AND DEVELOPED INTO DRESSES."
For all the chemistry that Mariano Fortuny studied, no scientific formula could have prepared him for the reaction sparked by the encounter he had with Henriette Nigrin in 1902. While the precise circumstances of their meeting remain uncharted, the young Mariano, barely in his 30’s, yet already making a name for himself as an artist, was back living temporarily in Paris, fully immersed in his pursuit of developing a complicated theatrical stage-lighting system utilizing indirect lighting. Henriette was 24, beautiful, and, recently divorced, non-conforming to society’s norms of the time. From the hundreds of photos, paintings, and drawings Mariano would make of Henriette throughout their life together, from the tilt of her head to the comfort in her pose, to the telepathic depth in her gaze, it is not hard to trace back their deep and immediate connection to each other. This great love story, like the concept of gesamtkunstwerk, or the opera d’arte totale, where the whole of the work is greater than the sum of its parts, birthed a profound creative collaboration that would soon forever change the worlds of fashion and textiles.
Within months, Henriette found herself moving to Venice, arriving on 14 July 1902, despite the firm disapproval of Mariano’s mother and sister, Cecilia de Madrazo and Maria Luisa. The fact that the bell tower in St. Mark’s Square collapsed on the same day as Henriette’s arrival to Venice was viewed by them as an ominous sign, the unfortunate coincidence only heightening their concerns. (It was not until 22 years later, when Mariano and Henriette formalized their bond in a small wedding ceremony in 1924, that Mariano’s mother and sister would finally accept the relationship and welcome Henriette into their fold.)
Eventually, the sensitive Mariano moved out of Palazzo Martinengo and took up residence with Henriette in the artistic enclave of the Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei, where he already had established a studio. Navigating the intricate balance between the three most important women in his life may have been challenging for Mariano, yet the creativity that Henriette unlocked in him, and he in her, was a sustaining force, enriching their lives for decades to come. No product or creation better exemplified the power of this collaboration than the iconic Delphos pleated gown.
For decades, the creation of the pleated dress was largely credited to Mariano Fortuny, but in recent years, proof was uncovered that Henriette was the actual creator of the dress. In a note written by Mariano in the margins of his patent for pleating, he states, “This patent is the property of Madame Henriette Brassart who is the inventor. I took this patent in my name for the urgency of filing... 10 June 1909 in Paris. Fortuny.” Interestingly, Mariano chose to identify her by her mother’s maiden name, Brassart, a simple gesture that perhaps alludes to the profound role women held in his life, a nod to the Spanish naming system that uses the last names of both the father and the mother.
THE PAINTINGS SEEN HERE, AND MANY, MANY MORE, INCLUDING MUCH OF THE SCOPE OF MARIANO FORTUNY'S WORK, CAN BE VIEWED AT THE MUSEO MARIANO FORTUNY Y MADRAZO IN VENICE.
In the Costume Institute’s fall 2023 exhibition at The Met, “Women Dressing Women,” the creativity and artistic legacy of women designers and women led fashion houses is celebrated, with Henriette rightfully recognized among the world’s most important female designers. According to the show’s curators, Andrew Bolton and Mellissa Huber, cultural institutions are working today to assert Henriette’s rightful place in fashion history.
The intertwining powers of love and art, and the transformative allure of pleats and fashion, converged to craft a legacy that transcended the constraints of time, encapsulating the enduring essence of Mariano and Henriette’s extraordinary journey, and we salute the Met for including our legacy and Henriette’s much deserved recognition in their powerful and moving exhibition.