Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871 to 1949) was considered the "Magician of Venice" during his lifetime. Born in Spain, scion of a family of artists, he was a universal genius and achieved world fame with his fabrics, his light installations and his pleated dresses, which were admired by Marcel Proust and many other artists and celebrities of the time. With his textile factory, which is still producing today, he left a unique legacy, not only to the Venetians. After his death, the Fortuny distributor in America, Elsie McNeill Lee ended up taking over the business, moving to Venice and marrying an Italian Count. In the late 1980s she then sold the business to a friend and confidante, whose family continue to run the business to this day. The factory is now owned by American brothers Mickey and Maury Riyadh. Visitors to Venice can still see the Fortuny Factory on the Giudecca, next door to the Molino Stucky. Alberto Torsello, a Venetian has set out to give Fortuny a new shine. A few months ago, he was appointed as the new artistic director of the house. The Venetian is a well-known architect specializing in the preservation and renewal of the city's historical heritage.
Exotic princesses, socialites and heiresses and liberated, independent women were all seduced by the elegant, extravagant richness of the ‘Delphos‘ gown. A waterfall of silky softness, exquisite colour and delicate folds. A dress that transformed the wearer into a Greek goddess, a classical beauty. Fortuny's client list was extraordinary. From the beginning Eleonora Duse, the famous Italian character actor was his client and as was Isadora Duncan, performer, dancer and socialite. Other famous clients included Mrs Conde Nast, Peggy Guggenheim and later Lauren Bacall.
On this island of Giudecca in Venice, Fortuny, his wife Henriette and later their successor, Elsie McNeill, realized their ideas of material noblesse. 35 people work on the production and sale of interior fabrics, cushions, umbrellas or textile book covers - fine niche products, the manufacture of which has always been woven into a secret. Fortuny fabrics today are still being produced at the original factory founded by Mariano Fortuny almost a century ago. Although the factory itself allows no visitors in order to maintain Mariano Fortuny’s trade secrets. No external person has access to the rooms. That was already the case in Fortuny's time. Even McNeill's Venetian husband, the Conte Gozzi, was not allowed to enter the rooms. A testament to his timeless spirit, production of Fortuny fabrics continues to this day in the original factory, on the original machines, using the same secret processes as developed by Mariano Fortuny a century ago. The showroom is open to the public on weekdays, and the adjacent gardens can be visited by appointment.
In 1922, Fortuny founded the factory on the former site of a convent in order to be able to produce in larger quantities. The exquisite Fortuny dresses, such as the Delphos model, were however being made in a small workshop in his home, the Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei, in the Sestiere of San Marco.Henriette Fortuny bequeathed the house with the studio for the silk dresses to the city of Venice. The divided heritage also favored the emergence of another company called Fortuny in the past few decades, which to this day sells lamps in the tradition of the "Magician of Venice" and produces silk dresses and kimonos in his style. Elsie McNeill died in 1994.
In hindsight, the fading of the Fortuny brand may have been a godsend for the factory's survival in one respect. Everything still seems undisturbed in its place. The furniture in the palazzina that Elsie McNeill had built for herself and the Conte. When Fortuny died in 1949, his widow tried to continue the business on her own. Like the Fortuny's, Elsie McNeill remained childless and in turn had persuaded her American lawyer, Maged Riad, to buy the factory and continue her legacy after her death. The factory never made any losses, he says. There have also been individual projects with fashion designers such as Rick Owens and the Valentino brand. And yet he was so moved that tears came to his eyes when Alberto Torsello presented his concept for Fortuny to him and his brother. A good 150 years after Mariano Fortuny's birth and 100 years after the start of production in the factory, there is a spirit of optimism.n the company premises is as if in a deep slumber. Fabrics, umbrellas, cushions - everything should be thought of differently. According to Alberto Torsello, there are even plans for a re-edition of the legendary pleated dresses.