Designer Diaries – Mariano Fortuny and His Influence

Handbag Note: I knew I wanted to talk about Fortuny at some point on this blog, but struggled as how to fit it in. Baguette Iselen came to the rescue with so much fascinating information on his background that it all fell into place. Enjoy!

Mariano Fortuny was a designer for artists, theatre and film divas, USA high society ladies like Gloria Vanderbilt and her mother, and not for royals or nobles – or at least not for their public wardrobe. However, he is an important part of Spanish fashion design history and has an entire room in the Museum of Costume in Madrid.

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Once you look past the surface, you can see how his influence can be reflected in designs royals wear today. We’ve explored designers such as Yuki and Jennifer Blom, both of whom incorporated pleated design that reflects the legacy of Fortuny.

Mariano Fortuny, Wikimedia Commons

Fortuny’s grandfather, Federico de Madrazo, was a royal portraitist. Through Federico, his family had access to the court, the nobility, the palaces, the country houses, the parties, the intellectuals of their time. Mariano Fortuny grew up in this fancy world full of colour, jewels and smartly dressed ladies.

Thanks to the connections of his grandfather Federico, plus the artistic atmosphere he breathed in his own family, Mariano grew up with design on his mind. The family were all very wealthy too. All these artists earned a lot of money, and Mariano’s mother Cecilia became a collector of antiques, fabrics and pottery. Her collection of antique fabrics included pieces from the 13th to 18th centuries, and her son inherited all of them. Mariano’s father, Marià Fortuny, was a leading painter in his own day. Young Mariano’s destiny was decided.

The Spanish Wedding, Maria Fortuny (Mariano Fortuny’s father) Wikimedia Commons

Fortuny began his career in theater, as a lighting designer. His wife, Henriette Negrin, was a dressmaker and it was she who advanced his interest in fashion design. The couple moved to Venice in 1902, where they lived in a palazzo that Fortuny called the “think tank”. It was filled with his father’s paintings and from there Fortuny sketched out his fashion and textile designs. He rebelled against the structured clothing of the time and took his inspiration from ancient Greek dress. One of his first designs was the radical, pleated “Delphos” dress.

Delphos Dress, Wikimedia Commons

It’s hard to describe how innovative this dress was. The finely pleated silk was weighed down by glass beads, which allowed the fabric to flow along the human form. The hand pleating has never been re-created by any other designer, up to this very day.

Fortuny designs were so flattering – some would say revealing – that they were shocking in their day. The dresses were not stored on hangers, but folded into boxes, so they could retain their shapes.

Élisabeth Greffulhe, wearing Fortuny

Countess Elisabeth Greffulhe was a French aristocrat, society beauty, and a self-proclaimed bohemian. She was certainly bold enough to don a Fortuny design for one of her official portraits. Finally, we have a “royal” connection, however tenuous!

Enjoy the Fortuny designs below in their own right. They have influenced many designers that followed!

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