Thousands of tourists are flooding the Venetian lagoon every day. They take selfies at the Rialto Bridge, eat ice cream at San Marco and explore the city on a gondola. What most of these tourists do not discover is a small oasis on the island of Giudecca. The Fortuny fabric factory not only hosts a beautiful showroom but is a hidden gem itself. I had the chance to get a very special tour which I would like to share with you. On your next trip to Venice, cut some time at the tourist spots and head over to Giudecca to learn more about the legends around the production of Fortuny fabrics.
I passed by the Fortuny showroom on my way back from a lovely breakfast at the Molino Stucky. I had heard about the company before but only that it is famous for its fabrics. Little did I know about the company history and the beautiful factory site. As an interior design lover, my heart started beating when I entered the showroom – there were beautiful fabrics, of course, but also chairs and smaller decoration items.
One of the really nice shop assistants started talking to me while I was looking at the beautiful notebooks covered with Fortuny fabrics.
She told me that the porcelaine items are made by a partner company and that the fabric of the diaries and all the furniture is still being produced at the factory in Giudecca.
The production procedure is still the same as over 100 years ago developed by Mariano Fortuny, the founder. He was a very curious and talented person. He was painter, sculptor, photographer and inventor. He designed and made his own lamps and furniture and was a book binder. He even produced his own colours and brushes.
I found it really interesting to read that Fortuny became successful business-wise because of his muse Henriette Negrin who he met in Paris. She was the one who helped him enter the fashion industry.
At about the same time, Fortuny started producing fabrics in the way they are still produced today. These fabrics are still the expression of his artistic genius and soon became very famous because of their unique visual appearance. He used his own formula for colorants and gave the fabrics an antique look. The fabrics and their manufacturing procedure caused so much sensation, some rumours claimed that there was magic involved. This “magic” has been kept as treasure at the factory on the island of Giudecca, the only production site of the fabrics.
I got curious and after I took some pictures in the showroom, we sneaked out into the courtyard. The shop assistant told us that we can find an art installation of the Biennale di Venezia there.
This courtyard was just beautiful and made me feel like living in the Venice around 1900. The brick houses and all the plants were lit up by the sun – finally the weather got a bit better during our trip.
The light installation “Leviathan” by British artist Shezad Dawood refers to water – obviously the wave patterns of the Venetian lagoon. But it takes a step further by exploring the notion of marine welfare, migration and mental health and how these topics might be interrelated. The camouflage-like pattern inspired by the light installation also made it into the product range of Fortuny prints.
Inside the showroom, there are further works by Shezad Dawood. When you browse for fabrics, the artworks – painted on Fortuny fabrics, are hung between the regular fabrics. Dawood painted objects lost by migrants who try to make their way to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
In the 1920s, Fortuny’s fabrics made their way to the United States. The main showroom and headquarters of the Fortuny company are still in New York City. However, the only production site is still in Venice.
While I was taking pictures of the courtyard and peeped into one of the rooms, my travel companion made her way into the beautiful backyard.
We were stopped by the shop assistant who just came back with a tour group she had shown around in the garden. We were actually not allowed to enter because the garden can only be visited by appointment.
However, the lovely shop assistant decided to show us around too and tell us more about the company history. We passed by the factory, which is much bigger than you would expect from the entrance to the showroom.
At the end of the garden, there is a beautiful pool. Needless to say, it was very hard to leave this beautiful place in Venice.
I was fascinated by the story of the Fortuny company and how it manages to build bridges between its over 100 years old heritage and contemporary design and art. As I wanted to take a piece of this beautiful corner of Venice home, I decided that the best souvenir for me was one of the diaries covered with Fortuny fabric. It has now become my daily companion and reminds me of the artist Mariano Fortuny and the beautiful story behind his fabrics.
Fortuny Showroom and Factory, Giudecca 805, Venice, Italy 30133
Opening hours: November – March: Monday – Friday, 10 am – 1 pm and 2 pm – 6 pm; April – October: Monday – Saturday, 10 am – 1 pm and 2 pm – 6 pm
If you would like to visit the garden, I would recommend getting in touch with Fortuny prior to your visit as it can be visited by appointment only.
All the information is based on the brochure and texts provided at the showroom, the company website and in the courtyard and by the Fortuny staff.
My very special thanks goes to the friendly shop assistant who took the time to show us around and share the inspiring story behind Fortuny with us.
More about Venice
Ultimate Guide to Venice and the Biennale Arte
More about Italy
All information as of the date of publishing/updating. We cannot accept responsibility for the correctness or completeness of the data, or for ensuring that it is up to date. All recommendations are based on the personal experience of Elisabeth Steiger, no fees were received by the recommended places above.