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Fashion: Andrae Gonzalo reflects on Mariano Fortuny

Editor's Note: Andrae Gonzalo is a New York fine artist, trained in fashion design, working in the theatre. Intrigued by the power of clothes to alter and influence perception, he is also a memorable contestant from Bravo’s second season of "Project Runway," (hosted by Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn). As a result of his participation with the show, Gonzalo has multiplied his efforts: writing, lecturing, costuming for live performance, as well as creating works of visual and conceptual art. Gonzalo has also created and costumed several dance works with his partner, choreographer Jamie Benson. Globally recognised as a NYC mainstay of the Art, Dance, Choreography and Fashion worlds, Andrae burst on to the scene during the second season of "Project Runway," and secured his place in our collective unconsciousness with his witty repartee and refreshing designs. Based in NYC, Andrae is now a sought-after commentator on all things creative and now, as the NYC Correspondent for Goldrush Magazine, Andrae reflects on one of his favourite artists and the creator of the eponymous pleat, Mariano Fortuny.

Andrae Gonzalo (above): "Because most people know me for my participation with the American reality television show “Project Runway," (featuring Heidi Klum, shown below), I’m often asked who my favorite fashion designer is.

It’s a difficult question to answer, because I can’t honestly say that I have one 'favorite' designer. Most artists have a personal pantheon, populated by the great minds that sparked their creative ambitions and I’m no different. Most of the artists in my own “temple of inspiration” are known for trying their hand at a variety of different disciplines. Like them, my own ambitions have taken me down multiple avenues. I often find most inspiring, the artists whose creative strategies also fall into a variety of different categories. As you might imagine, there’s a place in my “temple” for artists as diverse as Tom Ford and Yoko Ono, but one artist that I’ve found myself turning to lately is Mariano Fortuny (shown below in one of his self-portraits.)

I thought I’d take a moment here, to talk about one thing that I’ve learned from this artist. Despite indulging in a significant romance with the past, Mariano Fortuny was not a prisoner of history. He also embraced innovation, without falling captive to the tyrany of reinvention. Fortuny was a history hound. Although born in Spain, his mother moved the family to Paris, shortly after the death of his father where the young man was trained in the arts. Although he was exposed to the painters of the French Avant Garde at a young age, Fortuny’s own work followed in the vein of his uncle, Raimundo de Madrazo, and the traditions of the French academic style. Ironically, Fortuny can be considered a “Renaissance man” not just because he possessed a variety of artistic talents and interests, but because his work also followed in the footsteps of Titian, Tintoretto, and the other painters of that period. Fortuny and his family ultimately settled in Venice, Italy, (a city beloved by his deceased father) and a repository for all of the romantic traditions that would prove to be so influential to Mariano throughout his artistic career. As a grown man, he purchased the Palazzo Pesaro where he and his wife established a studio and salon, redubbed the “Palazzo Orfei”, after the mythical greek poet and musician. He spent the entirety of his career in that space, perfecting a world guided by a singular aesthetic. It was rooted in classical antiquity as it is praised for its modern innovation. In my own work, I find this an important balance to strike. I am also a glutton for historical inspiration and I enjoy the fact that many of the techniques and methodologies that I use, come from a long line of traditions that were established by men and women who lived hundreds of years ago. (below, Lady Bonham Carter in her Delphos Gown).

Often when people ask me who my “favorite designer” is, I respond by asking them, “living designer, or dead designer?” History is rich with innovations that are often overlooked or even forgotten , but great heights can be achieved when new traditions stand on the shoulders of the past. One of the other reasons that I find Fortuny impressive, is that his passion for innovation seemed to be a means for achieving the aesthetic ideals of a time before his own. It is an impulse that I also share. I’m continually looking for ways to achieve a sense of historic luxury while still embracing contemporary techniques.

On the one hand, Fortuny meticulously studied the alchemical formulae of master medieval craftsmen in order to achieve subtle iridescence in the dyes for his velvets. However, on the other hand, he is also known for registering over twenty different patents for electric lighting, and theatrical technology. Heavily inspired by his mother’s collection of antique textiles, Fortuny also developed elaborate printing and stenciling techniques in order to replicate the effects of these early fabrics. Plus, although he painted in a style based in the ideals of the High Renaissance, he was also an avid (and some say superior), photographer. He saw photography as a modern invention that would help him achieve an ideal from the past, rather than an innovation that would transform the future.

Perhaps Fortuny's most famous contribution is the pleating pattern that bears his name. This fabric, characterized by tiny, undulating, irregular pleats was beloved by modernists of the time, for the fact that it gracefully conformed to the shape of the body, without restricting the freedom of movement. To this day, the exact process for fabricating Fortuny pleats remains a secret and the only clue to the mystery resides in a patent filed by the artist for a mechanical device that somehow aided in the process. It is conjectured that the fabric was manipulated while it was wet, perhaps while being dyed, with the final product being a pleated silk that was stable enough to almost be permanent. For me, the Fortuny pleat is an example of one of the art world’s great dichotomies. It is a tangible embodiment of an ephemeral source of inspiration from the past, but it is also an example of what is possible when we go outside of tradition to achieve a personal vision. Fortuny’s pleat (shown below) is an innovation motivated by aesthetics.

Although he embraced technology as means for creating this fabric, it appears that his ambitions sprung from the desire to achieve a particular visual effect. This is not common in our day and age. So often, progress is defined by practices that allow for faster production, higher volume and lower costs. It tickles me to think that although Fortuny filed patents to protect the machinery used to create his famous pleats, the gowns themselves were sewn up completely by hand, fifty years after the first sewing machines themselves went into mass production!" by Andrae Gonzalo, NYC Correspondent, Goldrush Magazine





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