When you hear the name “Fortuny,” you might think of rich damasks, pomegranate-print velvets, and cascading silk lanterns as intricate as the sails of a model ship. But the world of the founder of the legendary textile company, Mariano Fortuny, went far beyond decoration. The Spanish-born, Venice-based polymath was a notable early 20th-century tinkerer and inventor who excelled in fields as diverse as painting, stage design, engineering – he patented an early version of a dimmer and invented a motorboat propeller – and fashion.
To celebrate the designer’s brilliance and commemorate Fortuny’s centenary, the firm’s 15th-century Venetian residence, Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei, often simply referred to as Palazzo Fortuny, was restored and reopened as a museum dedicated to life of its founder. and the work.
“He really was one of those incredible geniuses who was just as brilliant with his creative mind as he was with his engineering mind,” says Mickey Riad, Fortuny’s longtime creative director, who has met ELLE DECOR by phone since. Venice’s famous Piazza San Marco.
“The overall mission of the museum is to give people a better understanding of the scope of [Fortuny’s] work and influence,” he continues. “When people think of Fortuny, they think of its fabrics or its fashion. But when you go here, you see the scientific side of his work, not just the decorative side.
Mariano Fortuny’s mother moved the family from Paris to the Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei in 1889, when Fortuny was 18 years old. Venice at the time was a far cry from the cruise ship-crowded tourist destination it is today; the floating city marked the crossroads of the world where history – and the ethereal light of the city – was omnipresent. A young Fortuny has drunk it all, locking himself in his studio to think, read and create. “The light inside the palace was quite spectacular,” says Riad. “That’s where he had his studio and workshop, and that’s where he came with his inventions and patents.”
Two years before the move to Venice, however, Fortuny had met the woman who would become his longtime lover and muse, Henriette Negrin. She moved to Venice to be with Fortuny in 1902. “It was quite outrageous at the time, especially since they weren’t married and she was divorced,” Riad says. Matters did not go well with Fortuny’s mother and sister either – the day Negrin arrived in Venice, according to the story, a bell tower in St. Mark’s Square collapsed. Fortuny’s sister even analyzed Negrin’s handwriting and said the match was bad. “But they ended up staying together for the rest of his life,” Riad says.
Together at the Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei, the couple imagined the world of Fortuny, creating lavish fabrics and clothing that appealed to the bohemian tastes of the time. (Of Fortuny’s flowing Delphus dress, Marcel Proust reportedly said that it was “faithfully antique but distinctly original.”) Due to the popularity of these designs, Fortuny realized he needed to expand his business. In 1919, he found an old convent on the Giudecca, an island in the lagoon of Venice, and transformed it into a factory. The first fabrics produced there were released in 1922 and have been made there ever since using Fortuny’s original machinery and secret processes.
Mariano Fortuny died in 1949 and Negrin (whom he eventually married) bequeathed his palace to the city of Venice on the condition that it remain open to the public and that Fortuny’s library be preserved. The lower levels have been used for rotating exhibitions, including a series of shows curated by Axel Vervoordt and, in 2012, dedicated to legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland. But this month, after undergoing extensive renovations to address water damage caused by the floods that inundated the city three years ago, the building reopened as a museum exclusively dedicated to Fortuny. “This is the first time since 1949 that the factory and his house have been linked again,” says Riad. “And that’s really what excites us the most.”
The first and second floors of the palace are dedicated to the life and innovations of Fortuny. Visitors can see Fortuny’s library and his paintings, as well as some of his ingenious and ephemeral objects, such as his model of La Scala in Milan (to test theatrical lighting ideas) or sets for Wagner’s operas. Design enthusiasts will of course be blown away by the building’s imposing Venetian Gothic architecture and walls draped in yards and yards of original Fortuny textiles. The museum will eventually host lectures — “Like Fortuny Ted Talks,” Riad jokes — and rotating exhibits on its upper levels.
“For me, the most special thing is to see his process and how his mind worked,” Riad mused, noting his joy at discovering Fortuny’s sketches, notes or samples. “Having done this for as long as I have, I can now see how this has led to something else.”
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