The Fortuny gown which Albertine was wearing that evening seemed to me the tempting phantom of that invisible Venice. It swarmed with Arabic ornaments, like the Venetian palaces hidden like sultanas behind a screen of pierced stone, like the bindings in the Ambrosian library, like the columns from which the Oriental birds that symbolised alternatively life and death were repeated in the mirror of the fabric, of an intense blue which, as my gaze extended over it, was changed into a malleable gold, by those same transmutations which, before the advancing gondolas, change into flaming metal the azure of the Grand Canal. And the sleeves were lined with a cherry pink which is so peculiarly Venetian that it is called Tiepolo pink.
À la recherche du temps perdu
Ours is a story of curiosity and creative genius that began in 1871 in Spain, specifically in Granada. The Twentieth Century Leonardo Da Vinci was born in this Andalusian city, characterized by oriental atmospheres that date back to the Muslim rule. Mariano Fortuny, son of the homonymous artist and Cecilia de Madrazo y Garreta, inherited the passion for painting from his father, but it was in the applied arts that his manifold talents manifested.
After a childhood marked by the premature death of his father and spent between Paris, Biarritz and Madrid, he settled permanently in Venice, at Palazzo Martinengo, together with his mother and his sister Luisa. Between 1898 and 1906 he bought Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei in San Beneto. It was right on the top floor of the building, where he lived with Henriette Negrin, who met him in Paris in 1902 and was destined to become his muse and wife, that he started his adventure in the textile field. Henriette shared her husband’s passions and aesthetic canons and conducted the first experiments with printing with wooden matrices in order to create the Knossos shawl. As indicated by an autograph side annotation written on the patent, Fortuny himself recognized her as the real designer of the Delphos gown, inspired by the Ionic chiton of the Auriga. Palazzo Orfei became their Atelier, the workshop where revolutionary creations, cornerstones of the history of design and fashion, were born and where friends and customers gathered.
The pleated fabric, the folding dome, the silk lamps, a multi-color printing system, a device to vary the intensity of lighting sources — the first dimmer switch — and a new method for engraving photographic plates: the creativity of the two artists took on different forms over the years, but it was always the expression of a boundless curiosity that encouraged them to constantly search for new solutions in order to obtain new results.
Mariano Fortuny died in 1949. Left alone and unable to lead the factory at the Giudecca Island, where cotton textiles were printed with a machinery designed by Mariano, Henriette sold it, together with the brand rights pertaining cottons and wallpapers. Nevertheless, she kept for herself all the rights for the processing of velvets and silks made inside her Atelier at Palazzo Orfei, where she continued the production for some years together with her workers.
It was the journey of a lifetime, from Granada to Venice. The artists’ creative legacy seemed lost, but a curious young Venetian who frequently visited Palazzo Fortuny, which was turned into a museum, brought to light the secrets of its wonders: fabrics, lamps, diffusers, dresses, velvets…
Those magical objects that had fascinated him so much had to be admired by everyone, they couldn’t disappear along with their creators. In the presence of such a treasure, the enthusiasm for discovery grew. For months, that young man, together with some collaborators, leafed through the “magician”’s notes, analyzed the fabrics, carefully observed the clothing folds, in search of his innermost secrets, in order to rebuild a workshop that preserve his technologies and methods. It was 1984 when the pleating procedure and the hand printing system on silks and velvets was finally perfected, allowing the creation of accessories and clothes. This is how Lino Lando refounded the Atelier of Palazzo Orfei in Venice, continuing the handcrafted production of silks, velvets, lamps, clothing accessories and perfumes.
The Studio 1907 collection, composed of the famous diffusers designed by Mariano Fortuny, is among the products proposed. These design objects, chosen by architects and interior decorators from all around the world, are the first examples of lamps with a diffused light, still unsurpassed for technology and elegance, suitable for classic, modern and avant-garde interiors.
Last but not least, the company produces items of furniture such as cushions and tapestries under the Delphos brand.
Each product is a masterpiece of craftsmanship. The famous silk lamps and greek-inspired dresses continue to be designed, painted and printed by hand, with the same care as Mariano Fortuny and Henriette, whose precious artistic heritage is today conveyed by Atelier Fortuny Venezia so that it remains alive in time.