December 11, 2012

On Our Radar: Bella Figura Communications, Modenus and Fortuny


A vignette from the Modenus portal.

If you’ve spent any time seeking out savvy design tastemakers on social media channels like Facebook and Twitter, you’ve likely come across two names: JoAnn Locktov and Veronika Miller. JoAnn is a publicist and writer, the name of whose firm, Bella Figura Communications, might tip you off that she’s a devoted Italiaphile. She is a lover of Venezia in particular, and a new book she’s editing—Dream of Venice, a project with photographer Charles Christopher—is sure to exude the passion she has for the remarkable city!

Bella Figura, beautiful in any language.

Veronika founded Modenus, a networking platform and resource catalog for trendsetters in the interior design community. If you love all things design-related, be certain to visit her site and blog, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter for cutting-edge communiqués. When I learned JoAnn spent a month in Venice this fall and Veronika wisely asked her to contribute a post to Modenus’s blog, I thought it would be a perfect time to introduce a fresh voice to Global Lighting blog readers, especially since JoAnn chose to feature the lauded manufacturer Fortuny®—a brand I’ve always respected. Thanks for letting us share JoAnn’s exploration of how Fortuny’s delicately beautiful lighting products came to be, Veronika! Take it away, JoAnn:

The delicate beauty of Fortuny.

Fortuny is undoubtedly a name many of us have come to know as synonymous with the storied city of Venice. Born in Spain and raised in Paris, Mariano Fortuny moved to the Italian town in 1889 as a young man of eighteen. There, he elevated the minor arti decorative to the status of fine art. A “furious Wagnerian,” Fortuny was mesmerized by the emergent technology of the late 19th century, adding to it by inventing his own theatrical lighting and photographic paper as he designed and built stage sets, created fabrics and fashion, and sought inspiration from Carpaccio and Bellini in order to infuse his Venetian life with Renaissance splendor.

The striking details of Fortuny.

Lino Lando has been fascinated with Fortuny all his life. He spent years studying his paintings, lighting and textiles at the Fortuny family palazzo, Pesaro degli Orfei. Lando began production of the company’s silk lamps through his Venetia Studium in 1984, and by 1987 had earned the right to use the Fortuny® trademark. The lamps are still handmade in Venice to an exacting standard, despite the challenges of acqua alta being such that shipments and deliveries are often unavoidably detained. The silk is dyed and sewn by hand onto metal structures; then each lamp is painted in patterns reminiscent of Greek, Roman and Oriental motifs using the lyrical curves found in illuminated medieval manuscripts. The paint is a fusion of gold and silver that produces hues of glittering warmth. Each lamp is dressed with a fringed exclamation point — a silk tassel bound by a Murano glass bead.

The luxuriant craftsmanship of Fortuny.

Silk is a natural diffuser of light, so the lamps glow hauntingly like the lanterns dotting the Piazza San Marco on a foggy evening. The fixtures are not considered finished until the artisans attach the suspension cords to the exact heights of each installation they will grace. In 2000, Lando developed a glass version of the Fortuny® lamp, which can also be used in rooms with ambient moisture. The challenge was to produce glass lamps that would emit the same ethereal glow as silk, and to the untrained eye the two versions seem identical.

The exquisite delicacy of Fortuny.

Lando’s fanatical devotion to craftsmanship is identical to that of Mariano Fortuny’s. For instance, if you are the electrician hanging an immense six-foot diameter Scheherazade lamp, you will find five lion heads greeting you at the fastening points along the decorative metal ring. They will be invisible to everyone admiring the lamp from below but the electrician knows these silent guards stand proudly above the fixture’s canopy as testaments to artistry.

The mid-century surprise of Fortuny.

Mariano Fortuny was often called “The Magician”—a fitting title since his mind soared with invention. Between 1901 and 1933, he secured twenty-two patents; and as a painter, he exhibited at every Venice Biennale from 1924 to 1942. Regardless of the media he engaged, whether an exploration of the alchemy of pigments or the decoration and manipulation of fabric, his core fascination was always light—how it played on surfaces, how it shifted on planes, how it could be controlled and projected.

Harkening to the past with Fortuny

He developed a dome, a quarter sphere of light that was used for stage lighting, the version in the Venetia Studium collection a revelation of diffusion using precious and industrial metals anchored in a golden Venetian halo. The Fortuny® Studio 1907 collection consists of three models in stainless steel with aluminum shades and halogen bulbs. It took Lando two years to create the mold for the glass version of the shade, his goal being to keep the original Fortuny proportions while increasing the functionality of the lamp. The tripod version has removable casters, the light is indirect and diffused, and the shade can tilt and swivel at 360º. The gold interior of the dome is operatic in its splendor and could illuminate any production of Tristan und Isolde you cared to stage.

Lino Lando, now with his two sons Luca and Matteo, is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the work of the legendary Mariano Fortuny. It was Venice that inspired Fortuny and it is Venice where Lando continues his cultural legacy with illuminations that honor the past and add dramatically to the present.

JoAnn Locktov

A note about Veronika Miller’s newest venture in case you’d like to follow her efforts: Modenus’s BlogTour selects powerful bloggers and unleashes them (in a very hands-on way) on global cities in concert with some of the world’s most important design events each year. Next up, BlogTour Cologne during which 14 bloggers will be dishing about one of Germany’s preeminent fairs, IMM. Check out the BlogTour Facebook page between January 13th and 18th to see everything the design dynamos will be raving about. BOB is the BlogTour Magazine if you want a bit more of a full-rounded view of the tours.

You can follow JoAnn Locktov on Twitter as well.

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