One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to visit a new place every month this year. I love traveling, and have a few distant and exotic destinations on the list. But adventure doesn’t always have to be reserved to foreign locales. In fact, I always make it a point to live each day as if I was charting undiscovered territory.
That’s one of the many reasons I love New York so much. Every step I take in this city is filled with discovery, beauty, and adventure. Yesterday, I ventured over to the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute to see the exhibition on Fortuny.
Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871 – 1949) was a Spanish artist and designer. He was one of the leaders in liberating women from the corset during the 1910s. Fortuny was a real Renaissance man and loved to learn. He collected and read ancient manuscripts and rediscovered an ancient way of pleating fabrics. He started to use this pleating to make gowns inspired by ancient Greek sculptures.
I’d learned a bit about this famous designer in school, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend this exhibit. Curated by Oscar de la Renta, I knew the show would be a real treat. I was not disappointed. A majority of the collection was on loan from private collectors, including Vintage Luxury. I really encourage everyone to see this before it closes on March 30th, because the pictures do not even begin to do the actual garments justice.
There was so much about Fortuny that I didn’t know. He was a descendent of the Madrazo family, which consisted of artists, curators, and collectors. Art was an intregral part of life for the Madrazo clan, and it deeply influenced Fortuny’s creativity.
Fortuny himself declared, “I have always had many interests, but I have always considered painting to be my profession.“
He painted beautiful portraits, experimented heavily with photography, and collected art and objects himself. This paved the way for him to design textiles and design garments.
In 1906, Fortuny designed costumes for the Ballet for the Countess Bearn’s theater opening . The dancers wore his Knossos dresses, which were seen publicly for the first time. He then began producing dresses that referenced classical Greek sculptures, like the Delphos dress, in 1907. Fortuny kept his masterful pleating a trade secret, and was able to obtain a patent for the design in 1909. These dresses were stored by coiling them in a small box. When the pleates disappeared from wear, the dress would get sent back to Fortuny’s atelier for re-pleating.
The influence of Greek sculpture is pretty obvious. Yet Fortuny loved to travel and incoporated influences from various cultures into single ensembles or dresses. Exotic, orientalist themes are present, like kimono sleeves. His North African travels were always focused around documenting customs related to dress and photography. Fortuny also painted designs onto voided velvet scarves, which were then draped over his dresses to look like Indian saris.
Fortuny was originaly from Granada, Spain. He moved to Venice, where he operated his business. The Plazzo Orfei the location of the main workshops. He also had smaller textile printing locations on the nearby island of Giudecca. Italian influences are also scene in his garments, like the beautiful drawstring closures and embelishments trimmed with Venetian glass beads.
He also created textile patterns based on traditional Italian paintings. These prints included were on cotton and velvets. Many of the designs, like the melagrana design, are still available from the Fortuny company.
The operations soon expanded to paper and paints under the name Societa Anonima Fortuny. The gorgeous logo (below) was taken from sketchbook for Jacopo Bellini a 15th century Venetian painter that also designed textiles.
The clothes really speak for themselves, but gained a lot of attention in their heyday as well. Vogue stated in 1912 that Fortuny was ”an artist who paints fabrics” and in 1923 ”a great artist, with exquisite textiles as his medium”. I couldn’t agree more!
All images are courtesy of The Queen Sofia Spanish Institute. The exhibit Fortuny Y Madrazo: An Artistic Legacy runs until March 30th, 2013.
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