Mariano Fortuny (1871 – 1949) – Early 20th Century Couture

Spanish-born artist and designer Mariano Fortuny (1871 – 1949) was active in Italy, where he established a textile workshop and a commercial silk printing factory. The multi-tasked artist spent most of his life in Venice where he was an architect, couturier, inventor and painter.

Working in the early 20th century, Fortuny’s gowns were especially popular among the avant garde women of ’20s and ’30s who were seeking both freedom of movement and a hint of exoticism in their wardrobe.

Fortuny rebelled against the style lines that were popular during his time period and created the Delphos gown, a shift dress made of finely pleated silk weighed down by glass beads that held its shape and flowed on the body. The pleating that he used was all done by hand and no one has been able to recreate pleating that is as fine as his or has held its shape like his dresses have for many years. He also manufactured his own dyes and pigments for his fabrics using ancient methods. With these dyes he began printing on velvets and silks and dyed them using a press that he invented with wooden blocks that he engraved the pattern onto. His dresses are seen as fine works of art today and many survive, still pleated, in museums and many people’s personal collections.

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Countess Elsie Lee Gozzi wearing an Eleanora dress, 1920s

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Lillian Gish wearing Fortuny

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Mrs. Condé Nast wearing a Fortuny tea gown, 1917

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