Mariano Fortuny was born in 1871 in Grenada, Spain. His father died when he was three, and the family then moved to Paris, where Fortuny studied painting with his uncle. In 1889, the family moved to a palazzo on the Grand Canal in Venice. Fortuny was enchanted with the exotic city, and immersed himself in Medieval, Renaissance and Eastern influences, as well as the Arts and Crafts Movement.
In 1899, Fortuny established his own studio in the 13th century Palazzo Orfei. He became well known for his textile designs and in 1906 was hired to design a stage curtain and ballet costumes for a production in Paris. He printed large silk veils with stencils inspired by ancient Cycladic art and draped these around each dancer. The stenciled patterns were built in layers, often shimmering with silver and gold.
Fortuny named the garment the Knossos veil, and it remains one of his best known works and continued to sell well into the 1930s to women all over the world.
Fortuny designed the Delphos dress in 1907 to wear with the Knossos veil. Each Delphos dress was constructed of 4 or 5 widths of pleated silk and finished with cords that laced at the neck and shoulders so the wearer could adjust the dress as she saw fit. The dress came with a narrow stenciled belt or braided silk cord. Fortuny ordered Murano glass beads, which were sewn along the sides and around the hem of the dresses to add weight so the dresses would cling to the body.
Each Delphos dress was twisted and coiled, then stored in a round white box tied with black ribbon. Fortuny made subtle variations of the Delphos gowns for more than 30 years. Each dress was completely made by hand and each was unique.
Fortuny also designed coats and wraps adapted from traditional kimonos, saris, and other ethnic clothing. Each article of clothing was made from Fortuny's custom made fabrics, which he printed and stenciled in his studio. And each garment was unique and one-of-a-kind.
Please note: Biographical information about Fortuny is copyright of Couture Allure and may not be copied without permission.
Images courtesy of Houston Museum of Fine Arts, New York Metropolitan Museum, and the Phoenix Art Museum.