Talented tricks of magician of Venice


January 11, 2002

Here is a book about a fascinating and extremely talented man. Not only was Fortuny a well-known designer of textiles, garments, interiors and theatre sets, he was also an inventor whose creations included a revolutionary design for a bowl-shaped portable theatre.

Though his passion was for the Renaissance period, his major source of inspiration, he was a man of his time. His interest in past design and crafts has similarities with the work of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement. Nevertheless, he was not only interested in the techniques of the past, but utilised contemporary technology. If no suitable technology was available, he would develop one.

This book is an account of Fortuny's achievements. Though it presents information that can be found in other publications, the manner in which it presents it makes the book different. It is a beautiful, richly illustrated work and does more than justice to the visual aspects of Fortuny's work. Not only does it contain excellent detailed photographs, it also offers an atmospheric expression of the period and environment in which Fortuny worked. The photographs in black and white, sepia and colour, including originals from the Fortuny archives, and photographs taken for the book extend and complement the written information. There are also extracts from the novels of Proust, L. P. Hartley and Mary McCarthy that contain references to garments conceived by Fortuny; and an article written by Helmut Newton praising Fortuny's use of the camera.

The book brought home to me how much the pleated designs of Cardin, Yuki and especially Issey Miyake owe to the original research and resulting examples of pleated textiles and garments of Fortuny. Though his garments did not become high fashion when they were first produced, and though his pleated dresses were featured in fashion journals of the 1970s, they will always be admired and coveted for their classic and timeless beauty. After reading this account, it is evident why Fortuny was known as "Leonardo" and as the "Magician of Venice". The volume has something for the practitioners and students of fashion, textile and theatre design, and the painter. As such, it deserves a place on the shelves of academic libraries.

Stuart Aitken is research associate, Kent Institute of Art and Design.


Author - Anne-Marie Deschodt and Doretta Davanzo Poli
ISBN - 0 8109 1133 7
Publisher - Abrams
Price - £40.00
Pages - 188
Translator - Anthony Roberts

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