I decided on a recent trip to Italy that an excellent idea for a blog post would be Venetian Fashion. Little did I know that almost everyone wandering the labyrinth of the island would be a tourist, making Venetian Fashion an impossible subject.
On my first full day in this ancient city, I got lost. Repeatedly. I would turn a corner and dead end into a building or a canal… constantly. I think I walked a total of six miles that first day. I loved the way the sounds of voices and water echoed off of the stone alleyways and owners let the beloved dogs of Venice roam the streets and Piazzas off-leash- no cars, it was an island- how far away could the dogs really wander?
I was crossing a bridge, in search of a much desired afternoon gelato, when I passed under a sign: “Museo Fotuny”. With a broad smile I turned to my husband and said, “screw gelato, we’re going here!” I remember a memory of my mother telling me as a child, of a man who invented fabric so beautifully, with such a complicated process for producing it that went with him to his grave, leaving a frustrating mystery that has yet to be solved. I couldn’t wait to lay my eyes on his dresses and study them up close. I have restored many of his textiles: pillows, curtains, wall hangings, but never a dress.
Mariano Fortuny was a Renaissance man, a few centuries late. Originally from Spain, he moved to Venice where he set up shop in his gorgeous Palazzo. He was a painter, an inventor with over 30 patents, a lighting designer, and a textile and fashion designer. He is famous for his “Delphos” gown inspired by a greek statue. These dress were column like dresses that clung to the wearer’s body in fine, fine pleats.
These fine pleats are the cause of much torment amongst designers and those who wish to replicate this look. Legend has it, he would treat this silk with dye using an ancient natural dyeing method, and wrap it tightly around a broomstick, then bake it in the oven. Although I would like to imagine his Palazzo full of broomsticks of fabric and fresh pasta hanging side by side, in reality he invented a machine to do this pleating for him. This brilliant device had a patent, and he took his secret to his grave. To this day, there are many proposed methods for replicating this process, but none have done so to his level of success.
In order to keep the pleats in these dresses, the owners of them were asked to store them in big knots. This made them perfect for travel and fitting in small places. They hold up very well over time and many are still worn today. At auction, they can fetch over $10,000 a piece.
When I finally laid eyes on a Delphos dress, in person, I was alone. I got so close to it, studying it, trying to get it to whisper its’ secrets to me, that a museum worker entered the room out of nowhere and reminded me not to touch it. I wouldn’t dare. I spent our entire time at the museum studying the dress.
I left in awe. Convinced this man was a genius. Convinced I needed to live in and work in Venice. And then I remembered…. G is forGelato.