Fortuny’s first steps in France and Italy
Fortuny’s talents for invention and design became apparent during his Paris years, though it wasn’t until he relocated to Venice – another vibrant and sophisticated European hub – in 1889, at the age of 18, that his work began to take flight. Working from a grand fifteenth century palazzo crammed with his inventions and collected artefacts as well as those of his father, he established his name in the early 1900s with a uniquely pleated, Grecian-style dress that has retained its appeal 120 years later.
The dress that would define a legacy
Fortuny was aided in the design and realisation of the Delphos dress – of which Marcel Proust was an admirer – by his wife Henriette Negrin, a beautiful dressmaker whom he met in Paris in 1897. The patented hallmark of these dresses were long, handmade pleats weighted by glass beads that held the shape; simple and elegant, they followed closely the contours of the body. Fortuny kept the design and execution of this method a secret and, until fairly recently, no one had managed to replicate its unique pleating. This fashion riddle was solved in the late 1980s by a Venetian architect who subsequently launched Venitia Studium; today, the company has expanded and offers the full range of Fortuny products, including the lamps that have become almost as iconic as the Delphos dresses.
A true renaissance man
Fortuny was not just obsessed with fabrics and fashion design, famous though his achievements in this field may be. This hyperactive Granadino also developed a fascination with lighting, inspired by a trip to Richard Wagner’s operatic rehearsals in Bayreuth in the early 1890s. His self-imposed task was to create a lamp that that could recreate, onstage, the intimate lighting of a bedroom or a salon. Patented in 1903, the Fortuna Moda lamp, though originally intended for the theatre, has become a hugely popular – and remarkably modern-looking – piece of interior furnishing.
Visit the home of the maestro himself
The Fortuny Museum is now on the site of the artist’s former studio in a Venetian palazzo, thus cementing his connection with Italy for posterity. But Fortuny hasn’t been forgotten in his hometown, although he spent just three years of his life there: in Granada, this talented polymath is remembered by a small square bearing his name in the old Jewish quarter of Realejo.