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Following Fortuny’s footsteps in haute couture

3 September, 2010

Fortuny transferred his vision of modernity to the world of haute couture.

The desire to achieve beauty in all aspects of life served as a guiding light for Mariano Fortuny, in which the author of global creation did not overlook fashion.

Lanvin, Jean Patou, Balenciaga and Annie Leibovitz described Mariano Fortuny as a genius. They, who have also been recognised as such, were in no doubt. Fortuny created while in the pursuit of exception. The big names, who also showed unprecedented respect for his creations, saw this in him by dubbing him the Petit Leornardo because in public, talking about Fortuny meant talking about infinite creation.

He was a polyhedric artist, who could not be labelled just a photographer, or a sculptor, or even a painter. All these disciplines fall short of the mark when summing up the multiple expressions used by Fortuny in his creations. Driven by the never-ending need to investigate new forms of artistic expression, he left a very definite imprint on haute couture. In fact, understanding this figure, held up by experts as one of the most creative and innovative of the first half of the twentieth century, calls for a review of his contribution to fashion.

Mariano Fortuny had no desire to mark any differences between his productions in the fields of painting, engraving, stage design or lighting. Everything was a fusion between the future and the past and this highly personal vision of modernity also became incorporated into the haute couture that originated from his work.

Knossos and Delphos

“In 1907, he patented the Knossos shawl, launching it in Berlin and following the dictates of what would be a marketing campaign today. No other city was better equipped to understand his discourse about the world of fashion,” explained the Director of Culture with the Caixa Catalunya Charity Work Division, Àlex Susanna. Fortuny believed that only German society would be able to read and fully comprehend the paper on technology, creativity and beauty that he had written for it to have a decisive impact on the history of fashion. And that is exactly what happened. He used this first garment to speak to his audience of a before and an after for excessively decorative garments and “oppressive” corsets.

The Delphos came later. This was a simple pleated tunic which hung freely over the body and adapted to the female anatomy. “Fortuny’s sheer genius lay in this garment, with its capacity for individual expression,” Susanna stressed. The Delphos revolutionised the world of fashion and above all liberated the bodies of women who wanted to shake off the moral conventions of the age. “It is the only garment to be considered a work of art. And the truth is that he was not a designer, but a pioneering creator of his time,” stated this expert in the life and work of Fortuny.

And also an impresario

The son of the Catalan painter Mariano Fortuny i Marsal, he lived immersed in creation and a taste for artistic expression, but he also boasted an entrepreneurial audacity not often associated with artists. It was Fortuny himself who was in charge of the advertising for his products and he was personally responsible for photographing the exclusive Delphos models. At the age of 35, he decided to devote himself to textile design, building on his extensive background in creating theatrical wardrobes. He was an absolute master of textile printing techniques and went on to invent many new formulas. “In fact, during his time he also developed as a fashion-world impresario. He had shops in Venice, Paris, London and a representative in New York. He offered his clients the Knossos and the Delphos with exclusive treatments for each of them,” recalls the Director of Culture with the Caixa Catalunya Charity Work Division.

However, we have needed a perspective to appreciate the cross-disciplinary nature of Mariano Fortuny’s work. The reason why, according to Susanna, is directly related to the fact of having lived in many places for a very short space of time. Granada was his home for the first three years, then France, where he spent his youth, while Venice prepared him for adulthood. “But, without a doubt, it was the work of Proust that reminded the public of his genius,” remarked Àlex Susanna. In a magnificent undertaking, the aim of which was to bring together all of Fortuny’s work, the Caixa Catalunya Charity Work Division dedicated the “Fortuny, the Magician of Venice” exhibition to him in June. A once-in-a-lifetime exhibition containing over 320 pieces by the author from Venice’s Fortuny Museum.

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