Photos are by Andrea Cairone for RARE vintage
The QSSI has in partnership with its chairman, Oscar de le Renta, begun an annual costume exhibit which in just three years has become a must see on the fall schedule of shows in New York. The first exhibit I saw at the QSSI was the beautiful and dramatic Balenciaga: Spanish Master curated by Hamish Bowles which explored the enduring influence of Balenciaga's homeland in the haute couture he designed while living in Paris.
It was not so long ago I saw a Fortuny exhibit in Venice at the palazzo where Fortuny lived and worked, which is now the Fortuny Museum, near San Marco. It is a very transformative experience to visit the Museo Fortuny. You step out of the sunlight, the mad crush of tourists and onto the creaking wood floorboards into the dark and enveloping interior of the palazzo. You are surrounded by Fortuny's textiles, reflector lamps, silk lanterns and paintings. The paintings are hung lavishly dense, floor to ceiling.
You easily forget yourself admist the collection. It is almost a shock to look down and find yourself not dressed in a silk pleated Delphos gown. But Venice has that effect on you: at some point you feel like a character in the Merchant Ivory film Wings of the Dove. Or that must be on your way to a ball at the Palazzo Labia given by Charles Bestequi. Or if you arrive in February during Carnevale and take a water taxi when the sky is dark and the palazzos are lit by glass chandeliers blown on the island of Murano, you may see a man on the piano nobile of a palazzo on the Grand Canal in an embroidered frock coat and a powdered wig and you will surely think its the 18th century.
That is Venice, timeless, slipping from one century to another. But back to Fortuny, not in Venice but in New York.
The exhibit, Fortuny y Madrazo: An Artistic Legacy, at the Queen Sofia Institute is as much about the Fortuny family of artists as it is about Fortuny's fashion.
Fortuny was an artist born into a family of artists in Granada in 1871.
Tempura paints, Delphos fabric swatches, roller used for printing textiles and Fortuny brochure
Fortuny's grandfather and father were famous and exceptional artists but he followed a more independent path become an inventor, a photographer, a fashion designer. But he always thought of himself as an artist.
His choice of medium was silk, cotton gauze, velvet, glass beads.
The palette for his silk pleated dresses was found in the colors of the sky, the watery canals of Venice and the colors of the sun setting on the Giudecca.
Like many artists in the age of Impressionism, he was inspired by Orientalism, exotic motifs, the artifacts and costumes of the Far East. He studied the the sculptures of ancient Greece and crafted the classical drapery which adorned those statues not in marble but in silk.
And like a painter painting a nude, Fortuny thought a woman's body should be liberated from corsetry. The dresses, worn without a corset, were initially quite shocking and were worn by women who were not concerned with convention like the Marchesa Casati, Isadora Duncan and Peggy Guggenheim.
Jacket 1930-1940s. Acqua silk velvet, champagne silk satin. Delphos 1930s-1940s. Peach silk satin, silk cord, glass beads. Both Sandy Schreier collection.
Coat 1920s. Brown silk velvet, green silk velvet. Sandy Schreier collection. Delphos dress. Gold silk, silk cord, glass beads. Mark Walsh leslie Chin collection.
Djellaba 1915-1930s. Ivory silk, aqua silk, glass beads. Mark Walsh Leslie Chin collection.
This was one of my favorite ensembles in the exhibit:
Jacket 1915-1930s. Robin's egg blue cotton crepe, silk cord, glass beads. Sandy Schreier collection. Delphos dress 1930-1940s. Cornflower blue silk, silk cord, glass beads. Worn by Cynthia Gregory. Regina Drucker collection.
Cynthia Gregory was a ballerina with the Amercian Ballet Theatre in New York. She was described by Rudolph Nureyev as "America's prima ballerina assoluta".
Coat 1920-1940s. Apricot silk velvet, metallic print. Keith H. McCoy collection. Delphos dress 1920-1940s. White silk, silk cord, glass beads. Keith H. McCoy collection.
The very first piece inside the exhibit that you see belongs to one of my dearest friends, the collector extraordinaire, Regina Drucker. I asked Regina about her collection and this is what she told me:
"Years have passed with many additions but one of my favorite pieces came via Madame Trois, who was once the only dealer in Venice of Fortuny's fabrics and a close friend of the Countess Gozzi. She lives in a palazzo on the grand Canal that has been in her family for over 200 years. Every trip my husband and I take to Europe includes a pilgrimage to Venice. One day she pulled a small box out and within was the most beautiful velvet and gold stenciled drawstring bag. she offered it to me, as she had no daughters. I was so taken with the beauty of this gesture.
Regina's bag from Madame Trois.
"A few years ago, with my sister Genevieve, I visited a shop around the corner from Madame Trois. It had never been open in all of my past visits. I walked in and there in the back of this dim little shop on a padded hanger over a door, was the most beautiful velvet full length coat. It shimmered in its pale beauty in the darkness. I was told that it was made by Fortuny as a wedding gift. the owner complained that he was closing his shop after 35 years in business as tourists had changed to day-trippers off the gargantuan ships bringing the hoards who stare, eat and buy trinket souvenirs... no one wants antiques anymore and the cost of living in Venice was too prohibitive even for a Venetian. He closed the following day and the coat is with me now."
Regina's coat (on far left) 1930-1940s. Aqua silk velvet, peach silk, silk cord, glass beads. Regina Drucker collection.
Abaya 1920-1940s. Gold silk velvet. Keith H. McCoy collection.
(Left) Kimono 1930-1940s. Cerulean blue silk velvet, peach silk satin, silk and metallic cord, glass beads. Worn by the Countess Gozzi. Fortuny Inc. and the Riad family collection.
The Countess Gozzi was an Amercian interior designer who founded Fortuny Inc. in New York in 1927 and imported the fabrics and dresses of Fortuny. When Fortuny died, she sold her Italian villa to buy the company. She remarried and became the Countess Gozzi and went onto work at the Fortuny factory on the island of the Giudecca until she was over 100 years old.
Jacket 1930s. Pale blue silk gauze. Mark Walsh Leslie Chin collection. Delphos dress. Cornflower blue silk, metallic print, silk cord, glass beads. Fortuny Inc and Riad family collection.
This was a particularly striking grouping in the exhibit:
(Left to right) Scarf 1920-1940s. Sky blue silk gauze. Mark Walsh Leslie Chin collection. Delphos dress 1920-1930s. Aquamarine silk satin, silk cord, glass beads. Regina Drucker collection. (Middle) Delphos dress 1930s. Ice blue silk, silk cord, glass beads. Keith H.McCoy collection. (Right) Scarf 1920-1940s. Rose print silk gauze. Mark Walsh Leslie Chin collection. Delphos dress 1930. Chanpagne silk. Mark Walsh Leslie Chin collection.
(Left) Chlamys 1920-1940s. Brown silk velvet, green silk velvet, beige silk satin. Mark Walsh Leslie Chin collection. Peplos dress 1930-1940s. Sage green silk satin, silk cord, glass beads. Regina Drucker collection.
And what of Fortuny's Delphos and Peplos dresses? Why are the fabrics still manufactured but not the dresses? Because Fortuny, who was highly secretive about the process of pleating the dresses, did not want them to be made after his wife Henriette's death.
Lucky for us we can still see the fine Japanese silk that Fortuny set by hand with heated ceramic cylinders into hundreds of fine pleats at the Queen Sofia Institute in New York.
Fortuny Y Madrazo: An Artistic Legacy
at the Queen Sofia Institute
684 Park Avenue
November 30, 2012- March 30, 2012
I would like to thank the Queen Sofia Institute which generously allowed us to photograph in the galleries for the RARE vintage blog.