Fortuny Delphos Wannabe Dress

Since there’ll be no sewing done this month, let’s play “Here’s one I made earlier.” First up, my Fortuny Delphos Wannabe Dress.

The Inspiration

Mario Fortuny is a Spanish artist from the turn of 20th century whose lighting designs, Grecian pleated dresses and Renaissance velvet robes I really, REALLY love. Actually, my Gigli Wannabe Coat can probably be traced back to his influence via Romeo Gigli, Paul Poiret, and Ballets Russes.

He developed a way of permanently micro pleating silk which to this day no one else has figured out how to do. The closest modern equivalent would be crystal pleats or mushroom pleats.

Supposedly 70s designer Mary McFadden revived the use of these type of pleated fabric, but in polyester because they couldn’t figure out how to permanently pleat silk. Threads Magazine have a couple of articles on how to work with these type of pleats (10-11/1990 and 6-7/1993 issues, available on Threads Magazine Archive DVD). Both showed designs more influenced by McFadden.

Not really my cup of tea. (70s and early 80s aren’t really my favorite decades fashion-wise.) I much prefer the romantic Grecian style of Fortuny. To me, it’s not a fashion garment: It’s a timeless classic. In fact, my favorite image of a Fortuny Delphos is this one of an obviously very old lady.

Doesn’t she look majestic! (Photos from Fortuny by Deschodi & Poli, and Fortuny: The Life & Work of Mariano Fortuny by Osma.)

I really wanted to make one just like Fortuny’s Delphos, with bateau neckline and all. But my fabric from the Cloth House on Berwick Street, London was a bit too stiff. I think it’s a rayon crystal pleat. It doesn’t burn like polyester, but it doesn’t have the sheen of silk either.

In the end, I found in my clippings this alternative inspiration:

I went for the one on the left, a simple sleeveless chemise dress with underbust and waist shaping. Slimming while still preserving the elegantly simple and classic spirit of a Fortuny Delphos.

The Making

The crystal pleat fabric was a bit difficult to work with. The micro pleats make the fabric spongy, stretchy, and unstable. But I couldn’t use fusible to stablize it since pressing would flatten the micro pleats. Plus fusible would make the fabric even stiffer. I wonder if a different base fabric might be more fluid. This one, though thin, was a bit like China Silk / Habotai – floaty rather than limp and drapy like Charmeuse, Georgette, or Chiffon.

I ended up draping and designing on Big Bertha, then hand-sewing the whole thing. Yes, hand-sewing . Actually I don’t mind hand-sewing . The part of sewing I hate the most is pressing. Hot and boring. Hand-sewing is actually kind of meditative. Not that I’d deliberately turn to hand-sewing like the couture-loving crowd – my hand stitches are a bit too crooked for me to love them. But compare to having to unpick machine stitching, I’d rather hand-sew for better control with fabrics like this. Besides, the micro pleats hide a multitude of sins! 🙂

The fabric is cut in half for the front and back, pinned at the sides and shoulder, put on Big Bertha. Then style tape is laid on top to determine the neckline, armholes, and underbust shaping. I basted the tape to the fabric while it was still on Big Bertha to temporarily preserve the shape, then hand back-stitched along the edge of the tapes before removing the tapes.

The neckline and armholes are cut to the stabilized edge with about 1/4” hem, then turned faced with bias tape made from off-cuts that were pressed flat. These edges were then overcast with decorative metallic knitting yarn for a more defined shape and rustic look like in the inspiration photo. The overcast along the front neck edge crisscross at CF and continue under the bust, then around the back. On the inside, the overcast couch the black elastic which I thought might help preserve a closer fitting shape while still provide enough stretch (like the pleated fabric) for comfortable breathing. But I’m not sure it works as intended. The shoulder and side seams are hand-sewn french seams, and the skirt hem hand-rolled lettuce hem.

While experimenting with the draping, I decided I quite like this open back look too. So for CB closure, instead of buttons on one side and loops on the other side of CB, I sewn buttons on both sides. Then I made separate double-loops to pull the two sides together for a more conservative look, or left the top double-loop off for a open back neckline.

Despite the hassle of hand-sewing the whole dress, I’m quite pleased with the dress. Especially when it packs like this…


Then unpack to this…

Style Shots & Mug Shots

Yeap, this dressed made it to Maldives too. It’s not the most practical dress – not what you’d call a wardrobe builder. And not particularly practical for chilly London. But feels just right in luxurious Maldives! I felt like one of those Grecian ladies from an Alma Tadema painting.  🙂

And for a slightly Medieval feel…with my beloved 1980s Comme des Garçons scarf – my first designer purchase back in High School and still in circulation decades later despite the moth holes. Plus the ceramic cross pendant my friend gave me – my Cow Bell I call it – dropped, broken, and glued back together again. I do get rather attached to some things. Not very Buddhist. Or with a slightly Indian flavor, worn as a skirt with another two old makes: a S/S 1989 Gigli inspired wrap top and a Indian choli (cropped fitted top).


6 comments on “Fortuny Delphos Wannabe Dress

  1. jade says:

    How much would you charge to make four of these for someone if you’d be interested. Its for my wedding bridesmaids! If not where could I purchase something similar?

  2. luminita says:

    please tell me how did you make the micro pleats? i need for my school…please help…

    • Sorry, I bought the fabric already pleated. I didn’t pleat it myself.

      There was a Threads article a long time ago that has one method using microwave oven to set the pleat. I can’t remember if it was regular micro-pleat or just random crushing. You could try using uniform running stitches to draw up the fabric into micropleats, then set the fabric in the microwave. Experiment with a small swatch first! (I’ll try to look up the article on my Threads archive DVD tonight & reply with more details if I find it.)

      If you’re in NYC, International Pleating ( offers all sorts of pleating services, including micro-pleats.

  3. karen says:

    I’ve always been enamored with Fortuny pleated dresses. I read an article where this Japanese fashion muse (lived in NY and can’t remember her name) didn’t want to hurt designers feelings towards the end of her life so just wore her collection of Fortuny gowns.

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