The Delphos gown was a finely pleated silk dress first created in about 1907 by Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871–1949) and made until about 1950. It was inspired by, and named after, a classical Greek statue, the Charioteer of Delphi. Since the 1970s these gowns have been desirable and collectable pieces of vintage clothing, with one selling for a world record price of $10,000 in December 2001.
Working out of a 13th-century Venetian palazzo, Fortuny, a Spanish-born artist turned textile designer, produced garments that the novelist Marcel Proust declared "faithfully antique but markedly original". The "Delphos" was a deliberate reference to the chiton of ancient Greece and meant to be worn without undergarments, since the chiton was itself a form of underwear, a radical suggestion during the early years of the 20th century. This earned it the description 'lingerie dress'.
Fortuny became famous for his pleated dresses, the "Delphos" and the related "Peplos". The exact method of pleating was a closely guarded secret involving heat, pressure and ceramic rods, which has never been replicated. On both types of dresses, glass Murano beads are strung on a silk cord along each side seam. These beads are functional as well as ornamental since they serve as anchors for the lightweight silk of the garment and provide the wearer with a smooth and graceful appearance. These romantic gowns with their free flowing characteristics were a radical departure from their constricting predecessors. They were loose and lightweight and emphasised the female contour.
The Delphos as art
Fortuny's garments, particularly the Delphos gown, have been valued for their artistic and aesthetic qualities since their creation. The fashion historian and writer Colin McDowell considers Fortuny one of the creators of fashion as art, and a Delphos gown is one of only two garments contained in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
During the 1910s and 1920s the Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla painted several portraits of his wife and other sitters wearing Delphos gowns, some of which are preserved at the Museo Sorolla. The sculptor Hamo Thornycroft described his daughter Elfrida as looking lovely in a 'silk Greek clinging white dress', a Delphos which Elfrida later donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum.
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