T W G : Design Journal


La Contessa Gozzi

Fortuny fabrics are synonymous with luxury. For this reason, The Wiseman Group has had a long-standing relationship with the Venetian company. Fortuny recently interviewed Paul Wiseman for a post on their blog, How high is the water? Please visit the blog to read about Paul's thirty-year relationship with Fortuny, to hear about his day with La Contessa, and to enjoy his insightful comments about what makes him tick as a designer.

Bookshelves covered in Fortuny fabric in Paul Wiseman's SF pied-à-terre


Living room of Paul's Nob Hill pied-à-terre elegantly furnished with a mixture of antiques and comfortable seating
(Ottoman in "Caravaggio" in gold museum and pillows of "Carnavalet" in avocado green and silvery gold on the sofa)
Photos by Matthew Millman, unless indicated otherwise

In 1919, artist Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo opened the Fortuny factory in Venice. Originally producing fabrics for churches, museums, and the theater, Fortuny's fame grew when he began working in fashion. 

After seeing Fortuny fabrics hanging in the Carnavalet Museum in Paris in 1927,  Elsie McNeill Lee, a New York interior designer, was so enamored that she traveled to Venice to meet Mariano Fortuny. She convinced him that the fabrics were perfect to offer to interior designers and decorators. She became his exclusive distributor and, after his passing in 1949, took over the company. 

With the death of her first husband, Elsie married Italian Count Alvise Gozzi. She became known simply as "La Contessa." She hand-picked Maged Riad, her attorney, to take over the company in 1988,  and it has remained in the talented hands of the Riad family since that time.

Paul and Fortuny owner Maury Riad in Venice in 2010
Photographer unknown

For an interior designer, it is hard to imagine a greater mecca than the Fortuny factory and showroom in Venice. Paul Wiseman traveled there in 2010 for a nostalgic tour given by current owner Maury Riad. Paul first visited in 1985 when La Contessa Gozzi was still alive. After selling more Fortuny fabric that year than anyone else in the United States, he was invited to travel to Venice as her guest.

Paul booked passage on the Orient Express from Paris to Venice. On arrival, he was transported from the train station in the company's water limousine -- upholstered in what else but Fortuny! He stayed at the luxurious Hotel Gritti Palace, former residence of the Duke Andre Gritti. He was invited to tour the Fortuny showroom and garden with La Contessa. When at her home later for drinks, he was treated to a tour of her private dress collection. They then had dinner for two at Harry's Bar. Truly a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime tête-à-tête with an icon of the design world!

The ultimate luxury -- sleeping in Fortuny on Nob Hill!
(Headboard and custom  bed coverlet in "Campanelle" in Rembrandt rust, straw, and silvery gold)

Fortuny continues to represent the ultimate in luxury. The Wiseman Group recognizes the beauty and timelessness of their fabrics and is a large customer of the company. In one particularly sumptuous project, Paul created a richly subtle palette for his own Nob Hill pied-à-terre by using Fortuny fabrics throughout.

Display niche with shelves upholstered in "Caravaggio"

Cover of Fortuny Interiors, 2012
Photo by Erik Kvalsvik

To learn more about the history of this magical company and to see gorgeous interiors incorporating their lush fabrics (including Paul's Nob Hill pied-à-terre) read Fortuny Interiors, by Brian Coleman. ~