I often wonder about the concept of “forever” clothes. What are the things in my wardrobe that will stand the test of time and be considered to have cultural (and perhaps monetary) worth and be thought of as valuable further down the line when no doubt, should I have children, they’ll probably want to get rid of my dusty mountain of clothes. A Mariano Fortuny “Delphos” gown is most definitely a forever piece. Unlike other designers of his era, this one pivotal silk shift dress, marked by its permanent finely spaced pleats, has been photographed on different woman, decades after its debut in 1909. Natalia Vodionova wore a vintage pink one on the red carpet as recently as 2009. As a noted artist and lighting designer, Fortuny was less a fashion designer and more of a fine-tuner of a singular garment, as he eschewed the normal cycles of fashion.
You could say that by being inspired by Fortuny in their latest haute couture collection for Valentino, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, are echoing that same “forever” factor. Chiuri and Piccioli rarely wavers from their floor-length, inherently feminine and poetic gowns, invariably accompanied by Pre-Raphaelite tresses and a neo-classical soundtrack. For some, one collection might blur into another with their steadfast allegiance to the sort of beauty that goes beyond trends. However, this haute couture collection in particular with its interpretations of the Delphos, its replication of Fortuny’s painterly colour palette, and sumptuous aged velvet and hand-painted textiles, created in conjunction with the present day interior textiles company Fortuny, somehow transcended to another level of beauty.
Fortuny’s ‘forever-ness’ is one thing. But evoking bastions of un-corseted, expressive and free movement like Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Loie Fuller and Ruth St. Denis (any chance Chiuri and Piccioli might have also seen BBC4’s excellent Dance Rebels documentary?), added another dimension that, in particular spoke to women directly. Harking back to an era when boundaries were being broken and a woman’s sphere of influence was fast changing, coupled with the open-referencing of a designer, who also played his part in the liberating of women’s bodies, is a winning combo for Chiuri and Piccioli to reach new heights in their oeuvre at Valentino.
The transparent Grecian gowns seem more nymph-like, allowing the female form to flourish. You want to associate those eclectic patchwork of painted silks and free-flowing velvet with minds that were shaping culture. These sumptuous gowns mastered in Valentino’s atelier aren’t just vehicles for pure surface, but communicate a great deal more because there’s technical as well as emotional depth to them. They’re in their own category of ‘forever’ pieces, should you be lucky (or rich) enough to afford them.
Henriette Fortuny, wife and muse of Mariano Fortuny
Anna Pavlova wearing Fortuny
Clarisse Coudert, wife of Condé Nast, in a Fortuny Delphos and long mantle, c. 1919
Régine Flory in a Fortuny Delphos dress c. 1910
Helena Rubenstein wearing a 1923 Paul Poiret dress c. 1924
Peggy Guggenheim in a Fortuny Delphos in her Venice palazzo, c. 1979
Colour palette of dyed silks of Fortuny dresses
Tina Chow with her collection of Fortuny pieces
Paul Poiret design 1911
Ladies in Paul Poiret designs in a garden in Paris, 1910
Ruth St Denis dancing in ‘Egypta’
Martha Graham in 1930s
Shirabyoshi – female dancers in the Japanese Imperial court that dressed as men
Asian-inspired robe by Madeleine Laferriere from 1912
Paul Poiret harem trousers and sultana skirt c. 1911
Fortuny “Knossos” dress
The “Isadorables” – Duncan’s adopted daughters
Colette Alliot-Lugaz in a Fortuny Delphos and velvet mantle stenciled in silver and gold, with a motif inspired by Cretan art
Fortuny short jacket in lavender velvet stenciled in silver
Countess Elsie Lee Gozzi wearing a Fortuny Eleanora dress, 1920s