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Mariano Fortuny at NGV’s 150th Anniversary

August 5, 2011

I held a jewel in my fingers

And went to sleep

The day was warm, and winds were prosy

I said, “Twill keep” 

Emily Dickinson 1830 -  1886 

Fabulous is the only word that can describes the Bulgari Gala to fund the acquisition to raise $60,0000 to purchase an extraordinary vintage coat by 1920s Venetian artist and fashion designer Mariano Fortuney, to mark the National Gallery of Victoria’s – NGV – 150 anniversary.

NGV Bulgari Gala

The walls of the great hall at the NGV came alive with images of a magnificently maned prowling lion, a powerful symbol as he strolled nonchalantly through a bejeweled garden occasionally pausing to rest with a languid yawn. A jewel encrusted villa overlooked a sumptuous illuminated garden and a mystical living sculpture in the form of Australian model Samantha Downie graced a gilded entrance niche overlooking a real life garden set up around the Fortuny coat. Richly detailed, the coat is made of stencilled silk velvet, is an amazing example of the designer Fortuny’s work. Fortuny also excelled in various disciplines such as interior and stage design, painting, photography, architecture, lighting. In the early 1900’s Fortuny invented methods of textile dyeing and of printing fabrics, reproducing the depth, color and beauty of ancient brocades, velvets and tapestries.

Alison, Mercie and Gigli

As a mark of respect and reverence for the works of this iconc designer I chose a somewhat unusual Chinese inspired gold hat by the French milliner Marie Mercie. I wore a vintage one shouldered  brown velvet  Romeo Gigli  dress incorporating the cut of a classic Grecian tunic. My coat was a vintage 50s gold and silver brocade evening coat with a mink collar and my favorite brown sixtiesLondonhigh heeled platformed shoes.  I brought this together with a vintage gold bag from the 40s and brown kid gloves. It was good to see so many in this stylish crowd wonderfully well dressed.

I have always loved the work of Fortuny ever since I read the works of the French writer Marcel Proust. Mariano Fortuny 1871- 1949 was a modern renaissance man.

Mariano Fortuny

Fortuny loved the great Venetian art of the 15th and 16th century, Arabic and Asian art and was continually inspired by ancient Greece. He considered himself an artist not a fashion designer. His lasting legacy was however his fashion and fabulous textile techniques. He created the most wonderful pleated silk gowns (Delphos) in amazing colours.

The name Delphos came from the bronze classical Greek statue of the Delphic Charioteer. Each garment was made of a single piece of the finest silk, its unique color acquired by repeated immersions in dyes “whose shades were suggestive of moonlight or of the watery reflections of the Venetian lagoon”. The long dresses were simple and loose, their borders were usually finished with Venetian colored glass beads, which were both ornamental and functional.  Photographs of these magnificent gowns just makes you wish you could go out and buy one. Of the books still in print Fortuny: The Life and Work of Mariano Fortuny [Paperback] Guillermo De Osma is still the best.

Fortuny lived the life of an aristocrat in a grand 13 th century palace inVenice-  Palazzo Fortuny. He looked the part – 6ft, distinguished looking with piercing blue eyes trim beard and exceptionally beautiful hands.  Ugo Ojetti, a journalist and critic who knew Fortuny well, gives us this description of him: “He is simple and sober as an anchorite. He always wears summer clothes, even when the bora   is blowing, always of the same colour and made from the same material: an Invernesscape of black cloth, a lightweight suit of dark blue serge, a white silk cravat, a black slouch hat and low-heeled patent leather shoes or sandals of plaited red leather. His personal preference in dress was for the sixteenth century.”

Gustav Klimt

The NGV Vienna: Art & Design Klimt, Schiele, Hoffmann, Loos 18 June – 9 October 2011  this delightful exhibition has examples of the aesthetic reform costumes seen in the sumptuous paintings of Gustav Klimt.  Fortuny’s Delphos dress was certainly related to the reform movements of this time. He aimed for an artistic, hygienic (you wore no undergarments under his dresses ) clothes that were comfortable, practical and aesthetically pleasing . An exponent of both Modernism and the Aesthetic Movements of the time Fortuny aimed at a modern style of dress freed from the restraints of convention and not subject to the whims of fashion  The beauty of the designs worn in this era are so apparent that the period 1890-1914 is commonly called la Belle Époque (“The Beautiful Epoch”)

Fortuny Coat

Fortuny’s dresses had no pockets, ( the wealthy particularly at the turn of the century never carried money) also Fortuny thought they destroyed the line of his dresses so he created bags, which he made from his own multi-colored velvet in very simple designs.  Interestingly the dresses were stored in hat boxes and the pleats to this day are perfect.  

Who could forget the description of the sumptuous gowns worn by the Beau monde aristocratic wealthy women in Prousts À la recherche du temps perdu. In the volume entitled The Captive;

… of all the outdoor and indoor gowns that Mme. de Guermantes, wore, those which seemed to respond to  a definite intention, to be endowed with a special  significance, were the garments made by Fortuny from old Venetian models. Is it their historical character, is it rather the fact that each one of them is unique that gives them so special significance that the pose of the woman who is wearing one while she waits for you to appear or while she talks to you assumes an exceptional importance as though the costume had been the fruit of a long deliberation… Proust

…or of Proust’s  character Albertine’s exquisite velvet gown as “being of an intense blue which, as my gaze extended over it, was changed into malleable gold, by those same transmutations which, before the advancing gondolas, change into flaming metal the azure of the Grand Canal.”.

Fortuny Detail

As Guillermo De Osma writes in Fortuny, The Life and Work of Mariano Fortuny (this article could not have been written  without this book), “Fortuny invented fashion outside fashion, fashion that does not change, fashion as art. It is hard to image a woman today wearing a Poiret, a Paquin or a Patou. Dresses by these well-known designers and fashion innovators are marked by the stigma of fashion: they were created with the notion that they would not be used the following season or the following year, when they would in any case have lost their magic. Fortuny’s, by contrast, are timeless clothes. Their beauty lies in the elegant simplicity, the perfect cut, the quality of the material and the sensuality of the colors. All these elements, perfectly integrated, make a Fortuny garment a work of art.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 10, 2011 5:09 am

    Hi Alison,
    Just beautiful! I do love the way you write… so inspiring.

    We met at Fanantique vintage fashion event.

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