Fortuny’s Pleats – Pushing the boundaries

Fortuny's plissé detail

A quick search of the name Mariano Fortuny on any search engine worth its salt will promptly present you with a number of articles and images relating to the Delphos Gown.

Legendary dressmaker and all-round Renaissance man, Mariano Fortuny rejected the accepted fashion trends of his time and rebelled against the high-profile fashion houses.

A poignant turning point in fashion history, he created a delicate dress fashioned of finely pleated silk, the hem weighed down by a number of glass beads so that the dress held its shape and flowed beautifully on the body.

The utilisation of pleating in his dress, tunic and jacket designs, is something that has become intrinsically associated with the Fortuny fashion house, a marked homage to the classic styles of Ancient Greece.

Pleating Fortuny dress, scarf and cushions

Pleating is a process of folding fabric by doubling the fabric back on itself and then pressing or stitching it into place. Such a technique is widely used both in clothing and upholstery.

Fortuny patented his method of pleating in 1909 – ‘Genre d’ étoffe plissée-ondulée’ (Type of corrugated fabric pleating) – patenting a specific type of undulated, pleated fabric. The method of accomplishing such pleats caused great debate and speculation, but Fortuny’s exact pleating methods remain a mystery to this day.

Although the exact pleating methods remain elusive, Fortuny Srl has risen to the challenge and have emulated Fortuny’s creations and today produce tops, dresses, tunics and dresses in pleated silk.

Pleating Venetia Studium bag and scarves

The procedure required a great deal of manual labour with the pleats all being of varying and irregular lengths, very unlike the styles of pleating which had preceded it. It is widely believed that the achievement of such pleats could only have occurred when the garment was wet (quite possibly submerged under water) quickly followed by the application of heat to ensure the pleats maintained their form.

Whilst somewhat straightforward in its technique, the results Fortuny achieved were extremely effective with many of his Delphos gowns, over 60 years old, still maintaining firm and flexible pleats.

Fortuny silk lamps

It was this sense of movement and light, embodied by the pleat, that resonated with Fortuny. The pleat allows for a freeness and elasticity to the fabric, thus inviting it to cling to the body’s natural shape. This impression of sensuality is part of the allure of Fortuny’s pleating. The dress fabrics were dyed in a plethora of exuberant colours, blending the exotic with the classical, giving them a richer more vibrant quality when compared to the styles of the time.

Whilst the orthodox history of Venice lies at the forefront of most of Fortuny’s designs, his designs also contain a nod to a range of cultures. This is evident in his experimentation and formation of his own unique take on items such as the Japanese kimono, Coptic tunic, Oriental kaftan and Arabic abaya to name but a few. Each creation a unique piece of inspired and highly detailed art. Tipping its hat to what came before it whilst also pushing the boundaries of the perceived notions of fashion.

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