A passion for light, the world of Fortuny

by Katia Ceccarelli


Imagine you have a time machine and you can go back 100 years or so: you are attending a dance party, an exhibition, a concert and the most beautiful woman is wearing a Delphos gown or a sumptuous cloak designed and created by Mariano Fortuny.
This snapshot takes us back to the Belle Époque and the genius of Mariano Fortuny.
We could mention Proust, Isadora Duncan, D’Annunzio, the marquise Luisa Casati and many others to evoke the magic and the style of those fabrics born in Venice of the creativity and culture of its creator who took his inspiration from his trips and his wife and muse Henriette.

It’s worth noting that it all began because Mariano Fortuny was an artist.
It was only thanks to the artist’s inquisitive and experimental approach in the field of light and color that Fortuny started devoting himself to photography and later to those inventions that represent and embody his creative legacy and rich collections still today.
As an example, the printing process of fabrics used at the time of Fortuny and today derives from this experience and from the combination of various artistic disciplines, and this method is still a secret.
Among his inventions concerning lighting techniques is also the Fortuny cyclorama dome, a quarter dome-shaped structure of plaster or cloth used to create the illusion of depth and perspective by simply reflecting light onto it in a certain way or by changing the brightness of a light source through the dimmer. It was an extremely useful tool for Fortuny as a photographer, but it was later used in theatrical scenery and stage design, as well as in lighting engineering.

Every trip and every art form were a source of inspiration for Mariano Fortuny, to such an extent that his eclectic aesthetic and work is composed by many different elements ranging from the Mediterranean culture, through ancient Egypt and Greece to the cosmopolitan Venice. As a matter of fact, the history of this couture house is really unique and, from a certain point of view, it is also encouraging for Italian creatives and fashion designers.

The Fortuny headquarters is located in an early-twentieth-century industrial building on the Giudecca island in Venice: it’s a very special place, of rare serenity, especially considering that this is a factory where Fortuny’s production takes place still today.
Here about twenty people rediscover, invent, modernize and produce the exclusive prints famous all over the world for their uniqueness and elegance.

The business activity on this island began in the 1920s (1929), when the brand had already become famous. Before then the fabrics were printed on the last floor of the Palazzo Fortuny in San Marco, today home of the namesake museum, but at that time the manufacturing was linked to the clothing industry and around one hundred workers were employed there.

When the founder died in 1948 without having any heirs, another eclectic person took over the company, namely Elsie McNeill, who had seen Fortuny fabrics twenty years before in Paris and had fallen in love with them. She had travelled to Venice to meet with the artist and to convince him she should be the exclusive US distributor of his fabrics and dresses.
In the 1950s McNeill moved to Venice and settled down in a house near the factory, where she turned the vegetable garden into a flower garden and build a swimming pool. She married Italian Count Alvise Gozzi, but they had no children, Having no other heirs, before her death in the 1990s she sold the factory to her confidant Maged Riad, an Egyptian-American lawyer. The Riad family is still running the company and the creative design department as well as the manufacturing are still there, where it all began: in Venice.
The company management wants to maintain this special bond with the city, also by sponsoring building restoration projects and enhancement programs of monuments and works of art through the Venetian Heritage in Italy and in the United States. To this regard, recently there has been a fundraising campaign for the restoration of the Church of Santa Maria Assunta (also known as the Church of Jesuit), a building dating back to the early 18th century, home to some decorations in polychrome marble whose drawings and patterns have been reinterpreted and printed on Fortuny fabrics.

Shimmering colors, flashes of light, matter of art born in the most popular lagoon in the world.

Photo Gallery:
– Little animal toys designed by American artist Ann Wood and made in Fortuny fabicrs
– The chandelier designed by Pietro Lunetta



Special thanks to Pietro Lunetta for kind cooperation

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