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Dress And Jacket With Box And Lid, Delphos

This is a Dress and jacket with box and lid. It is dated 1939. Its medium is silk, glass beads and its technique is dress: pleated plain weave; jacket: supplementary warp pile (velvet), stencil printed. It is a part of the Textiles department.

Fortuny was a 20th-century Renaissance man—a painter, printmaker and photographer, he also designed theatrical sets and costumes and invented lighting systems for theater. But he is best known for his iconic Delphos dress, which was introduced around 1907 and was produced with only minor variation until his death in 1949. He patented the pleating process in 1909, along with some of his dyeing and printing processes, but left out just enough information that the process has never been fully understood. Traditionally pleats are made by adhering fabric to pre-scored cardboard forms, but Fortuny’s irregular pleats must have been hand-made, and were given further dimension by rolling the vertically pleated fabric through a series of horizontal heated copper rods to give an undulating effect. His natural dyeing processes and use of stenciled metallic pigments and discharge agents to replicate the look of ancient Persian, Islamic and Renaissance woven fabrics (which he collected) are also much admired for their depth and richness.

This particular example is in its original box, which has both the name of the buyer, Mrs. J.H. Lorentzen of Pasadena California, and the seller, Elsie McNeil. This provides a key into the importance of the American market in Fortuny’s success. The first photograph of a Delphos dress is by Alfred Steiglitz—a portrait of his sister taken in 1907. By 1912, Fortuny’s gowns were being sold in New York. Because they hug the body and were designed to be worn without a corset, in Europe the Delphos was considered a tea gown—suitable only for at-home entertaining. But American actresses and dancers like Lillian Gish and Isadora Duncan wore them in public as evening gowns. In 1927 Elsie McNeil, an American interior designer, became so enamored of Fortuny’s fabrics that she went to Italy and persuaded him to give her the exclusive rights to sell his products in the US. She became his close friend, protégé, and guardian angel—she helped him through some very difficult financial times in the 1930s and after WWII, and purchased the company after his death.

It is credited Museum purchase from the Members' Acquisitions Fund of Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.

  • Evening Dress, ca. 1924
  • silk, metallic yarn, glass beads, compound weave.
  • Lent by Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Museum Collection,....
  • 51.2016.2

Our curators have highlighted 2 objects that are related to this one.

  • Evening Coat
  • velvet, silk, beads, metallic embroidery.
  • Lent by Museum of the City of New York. Gift of Mrs. Christian R. Holmes,....
  • 76.2016.5
  • Suit
  • wool.
  • Lent by Museum of the City of New York. Gift of Ann Andrews, 1972, 72.136.6A-B.
  • 76.2016.6

Its dimensions are

H x W (A- Dress): 162.6 × 35.6 cm (5 ft. 4 in. × 14 in.) H x W (B- Jacket): 91.4 × 86.4 cm (36 × 34 in.)

Cite this object as

Dress And Jacket With Box And Lid, Delphos; silk, glass beads; H x W (A- Dress): 162.6 × 35.6 cm (5 ft. 4 in. × 14 in.) H x W (B- Jacket): 91.4 × 86.4 cm (36 × 34 in.); Museum purchase from the Members' Acquisitions Fund of Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum; 2016-28-1-a,b

This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s.

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<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url= |title=Dress And Jacket With Box And Lid, Delphos |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=9 August 2022 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>