Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Delphos Dress

"Delphos" dress, Mariano Fortuny, 1910-1930; CHM 1997.68.1 (pattern available at link)
Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871-1949) is best remembered for two things: vibrantly patterned silks and velvets, and the Delphos gown, inspired by ancient Greek chitons (themselves imported from Asia Minor), which were made from a single rectangular panel of linen or silk sewn into a tube, the top edge fastened with brooches down the length of the arms, and belted to fit to the body. The Neoclassical revival had already begun in the decorative arts by 1907, when Fortuny developed the Delphos, and high fashion was beginning to show its influence as well - but this was much more extreme than anything else in existence at the time. Not only was it originally intended to be worn without a corset at home (corsetless teagowns had been worn for some time already), there was absolutely nothing about its design that hid that fact. The straight, clinging line would soon become mainstream fashion, but when the Delphos dress was first designed it was a radical departure.

Mrs. Condé Nast, from Woman as Decoration, Emily Burbank
Like the chiton, the Delphos dress is not intricately constructed: the pattern is more a description of methods. The only shaping is in the upper and lower edges; rather than being pinned, the upper edge is laced closed over the arms with a blue silk cord decorated with patterned glass beads.

The Fortuny heat-set pleating method created unbroken lines of creases down the length of the dress, apparently before the reinforcements under the arms were done. Rows of gathering stitches hold the pleats in place there, where they would be under a lot of stress, and a length of cotton tape is sewn down under the "armscye", giving the dress a little more hidden stability.

As far as I know, there is no chronology of Delphos gowns available. There must be certain techniques or styles or materials that were only used during certain periods of time, but there are so few securely dated gowns or photographs of them that I'm reluctant to draw any conclusions. As a result, my date range is far wider than I would prefer it to be.


  1. Such a fascinating style--and the extant you picture is such a perfect blue. I get really interested, for what it's worth, in common clothing colors by style--how some styles are all over the place and some seem to lend themselves to particular schemes or shades. Random. Anyway. Thanks for this post!

    1. I call it "Delphos blue", and I understand exactly what you mean.