Barbra Streisand wore this stunning vintage Fortuny Delphos dress in Funny Girl (1968.) Irene Sharaff, who was the costume designer on the film found this dress for Barbra, and it remains one of her favorites. She loved it so much that she had Irene make a copy of it in pink for her Happening in Central Park concert, which took place during Funny Girl’s filming.
In her 2010 book My Passion For Design Barbra recalled “I thought the Fortuny dress was gorgeous. Utterly simple-held together by a thin silk cord at the shoulders and very complex with that infinitesimal pleating. Irene Sharaff found the Fortuny dress for me. No one has ever figured out how he did those tiny pleats. It’s like Tiffany glass in a way. You can’t quite duplicate it, although many people have tried.”
Barbra’s deep red Delphos was one of the variations Fortuny made of his iconic pleated gown. This version, estimated to be circa 1934 features a “tunic” attached along the neckline to a sleeveless underdress, bringing to mind a Greek peplos. Regarding this design curators at The Met note “This (peplos) effect is further emphasized by the handkerchief points at either hip, which would have been seen on the sides of an authentic apoptygma. In the ancient Grecian peplos, the arm openings were positioned along the neckline edge rather than the sideseam edges. This resulted in a dipping hemline at either side of the garment when worn. Fortuny took this structural attribute and achieved the similar, purely decorative effect by cutting away at the tunic’s front and back hem. Further, he interpreted the buttoned or pinned closings characteristic of a chiton’s shoulder seams by connecting the topline seam of the tunic’s sleeves with Venetian glass beads interlaced with silk “rat tail” cording. Fortuny was noted for his antiquarian intentions and scholarly treatment of classical dress, yet in the end, he invented rather than replicated a Hellenic style.”
Mariano Fortuny (1871-1949) was born into a renowned family of artists in Grenada, Spain. At 18 he moved to Venice where he established his career. He began working in many areas of the arts including theatrical lighting where he invented cutting edge techniques like the cyclorama dome. He opened his couture house in 1906, and the first Delphos gown was created in 1907 as a collaboration between Fortuny and his wife & muse Henriette Negrin. The “Delphos” (names after the Greek statue Charioteer Of Delphi) was a direct reference to the chiton of ancient Greece, and meant to be worn without undergarments. It was originally intended as informal clothing to be worn solely around the home. These finely pleated silk dresses eventually became evening wear, and Fortuny’s most famous design. His method of pleating was a closely guarded secret involving applying heat to wet fabric. He patented this method in 1909 under the name “Genre d’étoffe plissé.
Delphos dresses all featured glass Murano beads strung on silk cord along each side seam. These beads are decorative but also serve the purpose of weighing down the silk for a smooth fit. These dresses began to be distributed in the USA in 1928 & were made until Fortuny’s death in 1949. Today, his gowns are extremely valued and collectable, selling for upwards of $10,000. Read about the matching coat which went with this dress here.