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April 24, 2012

For this month's From the Collection series, we highlight the “Delphos” dress from the Drexel Historic Costume Collection.

The magnificent pleated silk “Delphos” dress was created by Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871-1949), a Spanish-born artist who turned his attention to textile design in 1907. Working out of a 13th-century Venetian palazzo, he produced garments that were described as “faithfully antique but powerfully original.” The "Delphos" was a deliberate reference to the chiton of ancient Greece and meant to be worn with minimal undergarments, a radical suggestion during the early years of the 20th century.

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. On both types of dresses, Murano glass 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.

Fortuny dressAlthough the graceful “Delphos” would appear at home today at a formal event it was originally intended as a form of elegant déshabillé (casual clothing). In keeping with this original intent, the “Delphos” dress is styled here with a silk and lace négligée from about 1914.

The Delphos is housed in the Drexel Historic Costume Collection, which was established in the early 20th century as an educational resource for Drexel students. Currently the collection is estimated at more than 10,000 objects and includes holdings of garments, accessories, lace, fashion plates, photographs and other related ephemera. The “Delphos” dress is a recent acquisition purchased at auction with funds raised by the Friends of the Drexel Historic Costume Collection.

--Clare Sauro, curator of the Drexel Historic Costume Collection