Italy has long been regarded as one of the world’s leaders in fashion and nowhere is this more evident than in Venice.
Today, Gucci, Dolce e Gabbana, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany – they are all here, and the newly refurbished Fondaco dei Tedeschi, owned by Benetton, and the calli around the Piazza San Marco, are good places to sample the delights of designer fashion even if, like me, you can only look and not buy! But Venice’s influence on the fashion scene goes back much further and two of the most interesting places to visit are the Palazzo Mocenigo in Santa Croce and the Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei (familiarly known as the Museo Fortuny) in San Marco.
Firstly, the Mocenigo’s. This noble dynasty was once one of the most important families in Venice, providing seven doges between 1414 and 1778. Here, in their Palazzo, you will find the Centro Studi di Storia del Tessuto e del Costume (Centre for the History of Textiles and Costume). The main focus is on supremely elegant 18th century fashion and, if you are lucky (I haven’t been so far), you can also go on a tour of the nearby weaving studio Tessitura Luigi Bevilacqua, which still uses 18th century looms to produce exquisite brocades, velvet and damasks, many of which are commissioned by royal palaces around the world today. Many of the articles on display are extremely rare and there is one room entirely dedicated to 18th century men’s waistcoats: the workmanship is stunning. In addition, there is an important library on the first floor housing a priceless collection of books tracing the history of Venetian fabrics and fashion especially from the 18th century.
Then there are the Fortuny’s. The Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei, originally owned by another illustrious and extremely rich Venetian family, the Pesaro’s, was purchased by the Spanish fashion designer, Mario Fortuny, at the beginning of the 20th century. In addition to his design talents, he was also a noted photographer, artist and the inventor of a successful method for printing luxurious fabrics. He specialized in taking Renaissance, Catalan and William Morris designs and converting them into modern decorative styles and is generally credited for being the first couturier to design and manufacture finely pleated clinging silk gowns (the Delphos Gown).
The Museo Fortuny has to be one of my favourite museums. Despite its slightly shabby exterior, inside it’s a veritable treasure trove of fabrics, gowns, paintings, and objets d’art, as well as Don Mario’s (as he liked to be called) workshop.
Don Mario died in 1949, but his legacy still lives on in his world-famous fabric factory, Fortuny, next to the Hilton Hotel in the ex-Mulino Stuckey on La Giudecca. Visits to the laboratories are forbidden (closely guarded secrets), but there is a showroom, and an exclusive Fashion Tour can be arranged (at an exclusive price, no doubt!). There is so much more to write on this, but that’s for the Revised Edition of Volume 3 of my “Venice: The Diary of an Awestruck Traveller”!
Till then, as always, ciao! In my next blog we will tackle MOSES!