Delphos Fortuny: the story of a dress that became an icon

Delphos Diva collage

“Man is mortal because of his fears and immortal because of his desires”, Pythagoras.

For something to become a great classic, a timeless icon – in short, a legend – the main feature it must possess is that it is not an end in itself, that it goes beyond both physical and temporal boundaries and beyond personal tastes. Only in this way it can be consecrated to eternity.

When it comes to fashion, it is rare to find garments that have never been transformed according to the tastes of the time and the needs of society. The Delphos dress is a rare exception: since Mariano Fortuny filed the patent in Paris in 1907, it has not changed (except in very small details). Eternal, timeless, legend, each of these words can rightly be used in reference to this pleated and handmade dress, loved by many women around the world even today, more than a century after its creation.

When it was sewn and worn for the first time, however, it was an absolute revolution. Women still wore constricted dresses, with corsets, not very comfortable and not always able to enhance the body that wore them. In this sense, Mariano Fortuny freed women from some constraints, making them feel more sensual …

Delphos Fortuny, how is an icon born?

Behind a legend there is always a brilliant man and what makes certain people such is their multidisciplinarity. Think of Leonardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs or Ada Lovelace … They were all great innovators, of course, but the characteristic that made them extraordinary is the fact that, despite being men and women of science, they had a humanistic education  that enabled them to explore and create new worlds, objects, theories with creativity and imagination. The true creative value, as Walter Isaacson (author of the biography of Steve Jobs, in fact) argues, comes from those who know how to connect their humanistic approach to technology, the arts to science, the way of being and doing typical of the Renaissance principles. 

The creative flair of Mariano Fortuny was extraordinary precisely for this reason, for his multidisciplinarity and his curious approach to the world, for his knowledge and his countless sources of inspiration, thanks to which he was able to interpret the need and taste of time, transforming them once into a revolutionary lamp, another into a dress loved by all, which over time also became an inspiration for other items of clothing. And this was possible because Mariano Fortuny was a painter before a stylist, a creative before a tailor, a person who used all his possible sources of inspiration to imagine and create.

Not being interested in fashion couture for itself or for commercial purposes, which often dresses bodies in an unnatural way, his tailoring creations reflect his knowledge, his experiences and the period in which he lived. So on the one hand the love for the East and for the city he chose as an atelier (and not only), Venice, on the other hand a mindset devoted to the arts and finally the desire to find a new style, free from structures and conventions.

The European context in which Fortuny’s Delphos was born

In Europe these were the years of Modernism, Jugendstil, Art Nouveau and the Aesthetic Movement, philosophical-aesthetic movements that were born in line with the cultural changes of the time, namely the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of urbanization. Mariano was influenced by these movements, was permeated by them and was able to interpret the need best expressed by Ezra Pound with the words “Make it new!”.

Fortuny’s pleats and ancient Greece

Whether it is painting, dance or theater, in this period women were looking for uniqueness and dreamed of freedom and Delphos fulfilled their desires: simple, sensual, respectful of the body, beautiful and above all not subject to fashions nor willing to change to adapt to external changes, this dress immediately became desired by all women.

The references to Greek columns and sculptures, to their workmanship and elegance, are immediate and it is no coincidence: in those years the English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, the father of the Minoan civilization, who was then doing important excavations in the Palace of Knossos in Crete brought to light many new decorative motifs that Fortuny also reinterpreted in his shawls. More generally, in Europe, a new attention spread to ancient Greece, in particular to the Ionian of the sixth century BC. and in fact Delphos owes its name to the bronze statue of the Charioteer of Delph who wears an Ionic chiton, a draped garment made of a single rectangular piece of very light fabric. Cut and sleeves are almost the same, what differs is the width of the folds which in the sculpture remain much wider than those of the Fortuny plissé, patented in 1909.

This series of tiny and seemingly infinite folds of the fabric give the dress the extraordinary possibility of extending, helping to reveal the body in a refined way, enhancing its shape. In the Delphos the combination of sensuality and elegance finds its maximum expression, reaching a perfect balance. Thanks to its simplicity: it is in fact a cylinder-shaped dress that leaves room for the head and arms, made with a rectangular cut. The peculiarity is the width of the cut used since the plissé requires about 3 or 4 times more material than the width of the dress. 

The original model had batwing sleeves, but others were also made with long sleeves or sleeveless and ground long, covering the feet. Compared to the original, today the dress is even more essential: the profiles on the sides and on the shoulders have been kept, completed with a row of small glass beads, made in Murano, which may seem just a decorative element, but they are functional instead, essential to prevent the dress from losing its shape.

The Delphos dress comes with a simple belt, in the same color and material of the dress (while in the original version it was printed with floral or geometric motifs). The difference between the models is given by the neckline, which can be round, V-shaped or backless. There are also different lengths of the sleeves: short, three-quarter length or with thin shoulder straps. Tank tops, tops, multi-pointed blouses and skirts are available. The oversized blouse is made of the same material with two or four points that hang one (or two) on each side.

Today, thanks to an innovative process, the Fortuny Delphos dress can also be washed at home, without fear of water, sweating or sitting. The workmanship remains the same, still all entirely by hand.

The desire of women was fulfilled then and now  and the Delphos is now an icon… after all, just as Pythagoras said, it is desires that make us immortal.

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