L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Friday, May 12, 2017

Fortuny. Delphos. Peplos.

Geraldine Chaplin in her mother's Delphos, 1979.

There are few garments more iconic, more treasured than Fortuny's "Delphos" and its variant "Peplos"; certainly no garment more collected and still worn. First appearing about 1907, they continued to be made until around 1950. Always more "wearable art" than fashion, since their "rediscovery" in the Seventies, they've become among the most desirable vintage garments, are avidly collected, and have garnered record prices at auction.

Natacha Rambova (Mrs. Rudolph Valentino), photograph by James Abbe, circa 1924.
Clarisse Coudert, wife of Condé Nast, circa 1919.
Nazimova, photographed by Wynn Richards for American Vogue, 1923.

Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (11 May 1871, Granada – 3 May 1949, Venice), Spanish fashion and textile designer, artist, theatrical and lighting designer, born into a family of celebrated Spanish artists. Fascinated by textiles from childhood, by the first decade of the twentieth century, he was living with his paramour and muse, Henriette - they eventually married in 1918 - in a thirteenth-century Venetian palazzo, producing garments that Marcel Proust declared "faithfully antique but markedly original".

Lillian Gish, circa 1920s.
Same as above.
Actress and singer Régine Flory, Paris, 1910.
Same as above.
Dolores del Rio, photograph by George Hurrell, circa 1938-40.
Same as above.

He remains best known for his finely pleated Delphos dress and the similar, less common Peplos. The exact method of pleating was a closely guarded secret involving heat, pressure, and ceramic rods, and has never been successfully replicated. On both types of dresses, Murano glass beads are strung on a silk cord attached at the edge of each side seam. The beads serve a functional purpose as well as being decorative, as they weigh down the lightweight silk of the garment, subtly enhancing and flattering the human shape beneath.

Model, circa 1920.
Same as above.
Elsie McNeill Lee, Countess Gozzi, circa 1940.
Same as above. Countess Gozzi, a wealthy American businesswoman, took over the Fortuny Company at Fortuny's death in 1949.

The Delphos was a deliberate reference to the chiton of ancient Greece; designed to be worn with little in the way of undergarments, it was originally intended as a tea gown or as similarly informal clothing to be worn in the privacy of the home, but would eventually be seen more as evening wear. The gowns were often made with slight variations in length and shape. Some have sleeves, others have none. They were usually accessorized with block-printed ribbons and sashes, and were worn with all manner of silk and velvet scarves and cloaks, garments which utilized the rich and varied textiles Fortuny was also rightly famous for; an important inventor as well as designer, he also manufactured the pigments and dyes he used for his fabrics.

Peggy Guggenheim, Venice, 1975.
Charlotte, Lady Bonham Carter (in a Delphos she bought in Venice in 1922), photograph by David Montgomery, circa 1970s-80s.

The method of storage for Fortuny's pleated dresses was almost as revolutionary as the garment itself; twisted and coiled and popped into what resembled a small hatbox. At any rate, it was a method that worked remarkably well to preserve the artist's beautiful creations - and continues to do so.

Mrs. William Wetmore, photograph by Lusha Nelson. Originally published in Vogue, 15 December 1935.
Mrs. Selma Schubart (the sister of the photographer), photographed by Alfred Stieglitz, 1907.
Mai-Mai Sze, photograph by George Platt Lynes, 1934.


  1. I have loved Fortuny so much that I have his photograph framed in my bedroom. Of course, his clothes would not fit me as I am so tall.but the textiles are all over the house. It is a passion of mine If anyone has any Fortuny they can live without please contact me.

  2. Good to see Gish among the devotees - she wore hers frequently, and most of her evening clothes seem to reference his work even if not actually his. It's said that the gown she wore when she did "Le Spectre de la Rose" at the Metropolitan Opera was a Fortuny, but I'm not sure. Very beautiful, even if not,,,

    1. Oh, thank you for that link, Muscato! I knew nothing of that performance; lovely, and I found it quite touching. : )

  3. Such beautiful garments and a fascinating profile of this artist.

    Any mention of Dolores del Rio reminds me of an amusing story recounted by Peter Marshall in his book "Backstage With the Original Hollywood Squares". He was once leaving a restaurant with actor Vincent Price and a woman approached them for an autograph. Marshall glanced over as Price was writing in her autograph book and noticed he signed "Love, Dolores del Rio". Afterwards, he chided Price for misleading the woman "She'll look at your autograph and see you signed it Dolores del Rio and she'll be disappointed." Price replied "I knew Dolores del Rio. She was a friend of mine. Before she died, she told me 'never let them forget me!'. So now, whenever I sign an autograph, I write "Love, Dolores del Rio!"

    1. What a wonderful anecdote! Thank you, Shawn. : )