Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo was a painter, inventor, and architect, but is
most recognized as an influential designer of the early 20th
century, one of the first designers to do away with the corset. He only
really had two dress designs: “Delphos” and “Peplos,” which were
simple, un-structured dresses based on ancient Greek design. What made
Fortuny dresses was the fabric they were made out of: tightly pleated
silk dyed in vibrant colors. The process for making his pleats was a
highly guarded secret, and it is believed to have died with Fortuny
himself, although close approximations have been made (check out how to
make some pretty decent fake pleats here).
After being pleated, the silk was then sent through several dye baths,
creating bright, jewel-like colors. The structure of the dresses was
simple and columnar, and they were seamed using venitian glass beads.
In order to keep their pleats, dresses were stored and shipped in tight
twists. Along with his famous pleated silk, Fortuny also made coats,
capes, and scarves out of sheer silks and velvet. He stenciled on
elaborate beautiful patterns based on medieval, roman, greek, and
moorish design. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Fortuny’s dresses
had a strong timeless appeal that carried through the changing fashions
of the early 20th century, up to his death in 1949.