Fortuny, Venice

Mariano Fortuny was a man of exceptional and wide-ranging talents; artist, inventor, set designer, lighting expert, thinker, model-maker. An everyman of the 19th century who made Venice his home along with his equally talented wife Henriette Negrin.

PALAZZO ORFEI – their home in Venice was given to the city on Henriette‘s death in 1964. It is a treasure trove of ingenuity and creative thought. An opportunity to step into the life of an artistic couple, where home, studio and ‘laboratorio’ combined to form an exotic melange; Arabian Nights, Pre-Raphaelite, Avant Garde it’s all here in a maelstrom of texture, design and engraving.

TOGETHER – they created the Delphos gown, a luxurious lady’s dress – made of the finest silk; soft, subtle, unstructured, a confection of pleated decadence. It became a best seller of the 1920s as the socialites of the time struggled to acquire their own gown from Paris, New York or even Venice. These fabulous dresses in pleated silk offered the wearer a sensuous, relaxed, easy to wear experience, previously unknown outside the bedroom. For more on the magical and even mythical Delphos gown investigate the following link: Venice – Fashion, Fortuny, Silk dresses and Downton Abbey.

HOWEVER – Henriette and Mariano were so much more than the Delphos gown, even if that was quite an achievement. They were ‘fashionistas’ and trend setters in the relative backwater of Venice in the early years of the 20th century. They soon realised that success was to be found in Paris and New York and they were absolutely right. They always say ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ and New York was just that for the Fortuny duo, by the 1940s they’d sold frocks to pretty well everyone. Mrs Conde Nast, Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, Eleanore Duse, Peggy Guggenheim, Lauren Bacall – that’s quite a list. Meanwhile Mariano was busy developing and perfecting a theatre lighting system that illuminated the actors whilst not blinding them or the audience. Clever stuff. When he wasn’t doing that he was reading, thinking, experimenting in his ‘laboratorio’ at Palazzo Orfei. A bit like Lord Leighton, his contemporary, in his studio in Kensington, London – awaiting the arrival of Queen Victoria.


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The author is a tour guide, travel company owner and Italy expert. Discover more at:

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December 2022

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