Marcel Proust mentions Mariano Fortuny – founder of the homonymous fabric company in Venice – in his novel “Within a Budding Grove”, volume two of “In Search of Lost Time”, as he hints at the mysterious processes behind ancient Venetian fabrics: “But I hear that a Venetian artist, called Fortuny, has recovered the secret of the craft, and that before many years have passed women will be able to walk abroad, and better still to sit at home in brocades as sumptuous as those that Venice adorned, for her patrician daughters, with patterns brought from the Orient.”
Mariano Fortuny (born in Granada, Spain, in 1871 and died in Venice in 1949) came from a family of architects, painters and art critics. He spent his youth between Paris and Venice, and finally moved to the latter in 1889. He began cultivating an interest in painting and theater, collaborating with D’Annunzio and designing theater costumes for various plays: Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, Eleonora Duse, Sarah Bernhardt, and Emma Gramatica all wore his Art-Nouveau-inspired clothes – both on and off stage.
Fortuny was an expert at dying fabric, and delved deep into the complex technique called “katagami” – a Japanese fabric printing process. Bending it to the needs of industrial manufacturing, he came to patent his own method and, in 1923, established Società Anonima Fortuny in a large factory on the island of Giudecca.
The Fortuny brand grew quickly, opening ateliers in Paris, London, and finally, in 1927, even New York.
After the founder’s death, the company was bought by Elsie McNeill – the interior decorator who had been crucial in its American success – and to this day Venice is proud to export Fortuny’s textile art all over the world.
A visit to the factory on Giudecca is a trip between past, present and future. Here, time has not been lost.