Design House: Fortuny (Italian, founded 1906)

Designer: Mariano Fortuny (Spanish, Granada 1871–1949 Venice)

Date: 1920s

Culture: Italian

Medium: silk, glass

Credit Line: Gift of Estate of Lillian Gish, 1995

Accession Number: 1995.28.6a, b


Mariano Fortuny's pleated evening dresses, often accompanied by coordinated cloaks, shawls, or jackets, were originally designed to be worn as tea gowns. That is, they were intended as "undress" to be worn at home for informal entertaining. By the 1920s, however, as styles and mores evolved, their jewel-like colors and body-conforming sensuality made them seductive evening attire. Worn outside the home by the fashionably adventurous—the actresses Lillian and Dorothy Gish, and Natasha Rambova, the wife of Rudolf Valentino, are notable American examples. The gowns were available in a variety of styles. This particular example is a relatively rare model—a simple chiton with Venetian glass buttons fastening the topline of the fitted sleeves and a cross harness. the harness is fixed and purely decorative. Fortuny, however, is known to have made functional versions with cording subject to manipulation and adjustment.