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  • Writer's pictureStefania Gioia

Fortuny: its Secret and the Quality of Light

Updated: Jun 26, 2018

Thursday, first day of summer. Venice’s main areas of interest are overcrowded; public water buses and taxis obstruct the Canal Grande, while gondolas throng the minor waterways; restaurants and fast food chains around Piazza San Marco are literally assaulted, while the usual, never-ending line stands at the Basilica’s entrance.

A Venice connoisseur wouldn’t wait a minute to escape this magnificent hell on earth, taking refuge into the minor islands or in the quiet Giudecca, a stripe of land (itself composed by a number of islands) that lays on the Southern side of the city. Called “spinalonga” (long fishbone) for its elongated shape, Giudecca boasts some ancient gardens, once peaceful retreat for the Venetian nobility, some outstanding churches and a totally restored area, originally occupied by monasteries and, at the end of XIX century, by various factories.

Right there, in 1919 Mariano Fortuny purchased a property and started a fabric factory destined to be worldwide famous, and currently ongoing. In fact, as the majority knows that the marvellous showroom is located on this mysterious island, not many realize that the artisanal lab, whose method nowadays remains secret, is still at the same place, operating with the same century-old machineries. A selected group of artisans, along with a staff of a few members, have the privilege of working in a place that’s both tucked away and exposed to the attention of the world.

An exceptional experience that Laura Pappacoda, who takes care of sales and hospitality, describes with pride and enthusiasm: “I was really fascinated by the story of Mariano Fortuny, who was able to reproduce the ancient damask and brocade with new dyeing techniques”.

Son of a celebrated artist and collector of antique fabrics, Mariano worked on theater sceneries, but was also into painting, sculpture, photography and illumination design. His mythical dress Delphos, worn by divas such as Eleonora Duse, Isadora Duncan and Peggy Guggenheim, was directly inspired by his love for Greek and Roman history and archaeology.

Eclectic and open minded, Fortuny owes Elsie McNeill his popularity overseas. The interior decorator literally fell in love with his production, imported the textile to the United States and became the exclusive distributor in the US, selling his works from her showroom on Madison Avenue, in New York. After the founder’s death, she bought the company, renovating the Venetian showroom and the secret garden: a charming, exclusive oasis in Great Gatsby style, equipped with pool and dressing rooms, adorned with antique species of rose and glycine, visitable only upon express request.

Passionate and respectful of Fortuny's legacy, McNeil directed the company till 1988, when she sold it to the Riad family, that currently preserves the technical know-how while expanding the textile distribution globally.

According to Mariano Fortuny’s philosophy, it is not the quantity, but the quality of light that really matters, and we couldn’t help but think that this clear, simple motto fits perfectly to Venice as a city of the past and of the future, where passionate professionals as Laura can still find the opportunity to work in an exclusive environment that doesn’t rely only on mainstream tourism, but establish its roots in the cultural tissue of the city.

Highlighting the work of our artisans, we encourage our guests to explore the most precious workshops of this city, that never stops to amaze us both for the quality of the manufacturing and for the technique’s refining.

For an in-depht look at Mariano's life, it is possible to visit the Gothic palazzo Fortuny, once owned by Pesaro family in Campo San Beneto. During his life in Venice, the artist turned it into his own atelier of photography, stage-design, textile-design and painting. Donated to the city in 1956 by his widow, the building contains precious wall-hangings, paintings, and the famous lamps.

Discover this and other hidden treasures through Have a Glass in Venice tours off the beaten path.

Find more info at: and

Photo credits: Steve Freihon,

Modella in abito Delphos, 1920 ca. © Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia - Museo Fortuny

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