Mariano Fortuny (Italian, born Spain, 1871–1949)
Rust pleated silk, brown and gray silk velvet printed with metallic silver
Gift of Clare Fahnestock Moorehead, 2001 (2001.702a–c)
Mariano Fortuny, the Spanish artist-designer who worked in Venice, created pleated gowns that have come to be surrounded by myth. His simplest sheath style, derived from the classical Greek chiton, was called the "Delphos." Highly secretive about the processes employed in all his designs, Fortuny left only one document related to the development of his jewel-toned gownsa patent for heated ceramic rollers through which the silk was passed to set the pleats. The use of the rollers, however, was probably a final stage in the creation of the dresses. Photographs of his earliest "Delphos" gowns reveal a wavelike regularity to their pleating rather than the later irregular and disrupted creases that characterize these examples. It is likely that the panels of silk were stitched loosely by hand, selvage to selvagethe width of the fabricwith a thick basting thread. When the stitcher reached the edge, the needle was reversed about three-quarters of an inch above the last line of stitches, and a new row was made. This process then continued back and forth in a zigzag pattern through the entire length of fabric. At the end of the panel, the thread was pulled in tightly, creating a narrow hank of cloth that was then passed through the heated rollers. The process did not set the pleats permanently. Clients would have to send their dresses back to Fortuny to have the pleats reset if they were inadvertently dampened or if they were flattened out at the seat.
A number of fashion designers have referenced a reduced scale of the classical Greek himation, a form of cloak. Fortuny printed a velvet rectangle, intended to be worn as a mantle, and fastened the shoulder with a Venetian glass bead. Similarly, Madame Grès took a square of velvet to knot at the shoulder but also to wrap around the waist as a sarong.