Tracing the Fold: Mariano Fortuny the Inventor of Pleats

Mariano Fortuny (1871–1949) was a Spanish designer, artist, and inventor celebrated for his revolutionary contributions to the worlds of fashion and design. Renowned for his innovative textile pleating techniques and the iconic "Delphos" gown, Fortuny's multidisciplinary approach extended to inventions like the Fortuny lamp, leaving an enduring legacy that continues to influence contemporary design.

Within the captivating realm of fashion and design, Mariano Fortuny emerges as a luminary whose pioneering contributions have shaped the design landscape, especially those of us utilising and honouring the pleat. It’s important to remember and respect those who paved the way for designers today!


Sources: Bonhams, 2012 (left), Fortuny Museum (right)


Fortuny's mastery - the signature Fortuny pleats - aren't just folds; they are a testament to innovation and tradition interwoven seamlessly. Modern pleats have undergone many iterations of Fortuny’s original design innovation, including the likes of Issey Miyake and Petit Pli within the evolution that keeps this timeless technique at the forefront of design. Uncover the latest pleat trends, where tradition meets contemporary expression in a harmonious blend, such as our clothes that grow collections for kids.

As we say here at Petit Pli, the future belongs to the curious and Fortuny's curiosity across various artistic disciplines flourished. This curiosity laid the groundwork for an innovative journey that would redefine the essence of textile design as Fortuny pioneered the use of pleats and stitches within silk fabric, paving the way for pleated designers today.

Mariano Fortuny’s family and upbringing played a key part in shaping his artistic genius. With his father being a genre painter, Fortuny was encouraged to express himself and feed his curiosity. After his father’s passing at three, Mariano Fortuny's mother moved the family from Granada to Paris and this early life experience shaped his extraordinary artistic trajectory. Exposed to diverse textiles and his mother’s textile collections, Fortuny's childhood fascination with painting and materials evolved into a passion for designing textiles and dresses. The family's move to Venice in 1889 marked a pivotal moment, propelling Fortuny into a journey across Europe to seek inspiration from admired artists, including the renowned composer and theatre director, Richard Wagner.

Influences and Transition to Venice

Set against the backdrop of the captivating city, Fortuny's move marked a pivotal moment as he established his workshop and studio, breathing life into his artistic visions. Immersed in the rich tapestry of Venetian culture and traditions, Fortuny's creativity blossomed, and his pleated garments became a testament to the classical aesthetic that defined his work. The artistry of pleats, seamlessly woven into his designs, showcased not only his mastery but also unveiled the timeless elegance of Venetian influence. Immersed in the rich tapestry of Venetian culture and traditions, As Fortuny navigated the canals of Venice, the city's unique ambiance became a muse, inspiring him to explore the intricate techniques of how to sew pleats with precision. Each stitch echoed the symphony of Venetian craftsmanship, encapsulating the essence of Fortuny's artistic evolution.


Innovations in Textile Design


Source: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, 2019

What are pleats, you ask? It is the process of folding textiles as a process. The classic Fortuny pleats reveal an artistry that goes beyond mere fabric manipulation, a delicate dance of pleating takes centre stage. The union of pleats and stitches for Fortuny transcended the ordinary and merged artistry with technical advancements - in many ways he was very ahead of his time.

At the heart of this evolution lies the iconic "Delphos" gown, a masterpiece that not only epitomised draped pleating but also became a trailblazer in the realm of fashion pleating. Delving into the intricate details of the Delphos gown pleating, Fortuny's silk pleats unfolded as a symbol of innovation, setting enduring fashion pleating trends that would resonate through the ages. The legacy of the Delphos gown and its pleating details remains an enduring testament to Fortuny's pioneering spirit in the world of pleated fashion innovation.

Inventions and Patents

Mariano Fortuny’s multidisciplinary approach manifested through a repertoire of inventions and patents that seamlessly merged artistry with technical advancements. Fortuny's inventive genius extended beyond draped pleats for dresses, encompassing a spectrum of artistic fabric pleating techniques. His patents weren't merely technical documents; they were a testament to the fusion of form and function, highlighting various pleat styles that transcended conventional boundaries.

In a nod to contemporary influences, Fortuny's innovations are echoed in the fashion world today, inspiring legends like Issey Miyake, known for groundbreaking creations like pleated pants and Pleats Please collection. The evolution of pleated fabric, driven by Fortuny's patents, became a cornerstone of design, firmly establishing the enduring allure of pleats in the world of fashion. The legacy of his pleats, imprinted through patents, continues to shape the landscape of design, offering a timeless symphony of pleat styles that resonate through the ages.

Multidisciplinary Approach, The Fortuny Lamp and Theatre


Source: Sailko, 2017

Beyond the runway, Fortuny's ingenuity extended to lighting design with the invention of the Fortuny lamp. His fascination with material techniques transcended into the realm of architectural pleats, lighting and design, creating a harmonious fusion of craftsmanship and innovation. Fortuny's influence extended to the theatrical stage, where his expertise in pleats and the design world reshaped the landscape of set and lighting design.

His avant-garde stage lighting techniques, informed by his multidisciplinary understanding of pleat craftsmanship, cast a transformative glow on the theatrical world, forever altering the dynamics of visual storytelling. Fortuny pioneered the use of a special dome that enabled the removal of backdrops. The Fortuny lamp and his theatrical endeavours serve as testaments to a visionary who left an enduring imprint on both fashion and the immersive world of interiors and theatre.

Legacy and Impact Today

Fortuny's creative spirit lives on, inspiring a new generation of designers and artists. His innovative approach to pleats has transcended time, shaping pleat trends that persist in modern aesthetics. From pleats in pants to the flourishing allure of different types of pleats in varying materials from silk, to recycled polyester to wool, Fortuny's imprint remains a source of inspiration for those navigating the ever-evolving world of contemporary design.

Fortuny's aesthetic choices and design principles have become a blueprint for style evolution. The influence extends to luminaries like Issey Miyake, who popularised the pleat with creations like Pleats Please. In the realm of pleated trousers and contemporary pleat-inspired designs, Fortuny's legacy is not a relic of the past but a dynamic force that continues to shape the present. Fortuny has been an inspiration to many designers to this day and it’s important to recognise how each designer has acknowledged Fortuny’s innovations in their work and how these designers have transformed this innovation into new ways of working with pleats. For example, our new merino wool vest makes use of pleats in a different way. Our design team cleverly found a way to reverse the stitching on our sewing machine in a way that enables wool to pull and contract and fold - a different variation of pleat intelligence that continues the essence of merging artistry with technical advancements. Fortuny's legacy stands as a beacon, casting its influence far beyond his era. His pioneering work in modern pleats, particularly with pleated fabric, has left an unforgettable mark on the realms of fashion and design, although not particularly well known. As we reflect on his contributions, the echoes of vintage pleats continue to reverberate through contemporary design landscapes.