Silk satin, cord, glass beads,
Mariano Fortuny, Venice, Italy
Spanish designer Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo is best known for his iconic columnar Delphos and Peplos gowns. These hand-dyed, hand-pleated silk gowns with Venetian glass beads were created using his own patented method of pleating, which even today remains shrouded in mystery. The pleats were not set permanently, so clients had to send them back to the workshop periodically to have them reset.
Who wore it
Clarisse Coudert, wife of American publishing magnate Condé Nast, wearing a Fortuny tea gown
Fortuny continually referenced historical and non-western sources, reviving complex fabric treatments and dyeing techniques. The first Delphos gown was created in 1908. It was named for the pleated linen chitons worn by the subjects of Ancient Greek sculpture, specifically the charioteer of Delphi which is one of the best-known surviving examples.
For the next 40 years, Fortuny made variations on the Delphos dress including this later Peplos version. They all featured the characteristic tunic attached at the shoulders, falling in points to the hip. Sewing cords strung with Murano glass beads added weight to counteract the elastic quality of the pleating.
In the 20th century, fashion designers developed their own new techniques for pleating fabrics in conjunction with technological advances. Fortuny’s method is still a closely guarded secret – we know that he took out a patent for passing silk through heated ceramic rollers, but can only guess as to the exact process.
Fortuny also manufactured his own dyes and pigments for his fabrics using ancient methods. He chose to work mostly with dyes from natural sources, layering colour with multiple dye baths. This, combined with the distinctively fine heat-set pleating, meant rarely were any two of his garments exactly alike.