Pleats: McCartney, Miyake and Fortuny

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Stella McCartney, AW11, Paris.

In the recent Stella McCartney collection, there were some beautifully pleated garments that were reminiscent of the work of two very different designers, from two very different eras. The first was Mario Fortuny and the second was Issey Miyake.

Mariano Fortuny was a designer, sculptor, artist and inventor of the early 20th century, who lived in Spain and whose work covered everything from incredible textiles to lighting design. One of his works for fashion design involved a secret technique so innovative that it is still not completely understood even to this day. The technique involved the very fine pleating of silk into long sheath dresses which were styled after the garments of ancient Greece and were titled “Delphos”.

The use of the pleating gave the fabric an elastic quality, so that without the use of darting or shaped panels, the dress would cling to the curves of the body. It is believed that the Fortuny pleating was put into place by hand stitching rows of small folds together before the fabric would be heat set, then later removing the stitching. There was also a sort of hidden pulley system to close the garments, involving lacing and heavy glass Venetian beads as counterweights.

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Stella McCartney, AW11, Paris.

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Pleating by Mariano Fortuny.

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The Delphos Dress, by Mariano Fortuny, c.a. 1920.

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Examples of more of Mariano Fortuny’s work including detailed examples of the Delphos Dress as well as a dressing gown, all c.a. 1920 – 1940.

In essence, a very similar style of fine pleat is used in the Pleats Please collection by Issey Miyake. One of the main differences in technique between Fortuny and Miyake, aside from the fact that today’s processes would be far more automated, is that the Issey Miyake pleats use fabric which is 100% polyester as opposed to 100 % silk. This is the difference between using a synthetic fibre which does have thermoplastic qualities, and using a natural fibre which does not. Thermoplasty is effectively the ability for a fibre to be moulded by heat and pressure, and for it to afterwards retain its shape. Especially after the fabric has been washed. The reason many of today’s crazy fabric textures and pleating styles are done in synthetics is due to this quality.

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If you have ever washed a pleated silk garment at home and had the pleats fall out, you now know why. This is the reason why it is better for you to have heavily pleated garments professionally dry cleaned; so that the pleats can be correctly reset and so that the garment will maintain its shape. In the time of Fortuny, a garment with flattened pleats would require you to return the garment to him, in order for him to reset the pleats for you. 

Catwalk images from Vogue.co.uk»

Examples of Fortuny’s work from the V&A» and the Metropolitan Museum of Art»

Pleats Please collection images from the Pleats Please Webstore»

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