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


A neon orange Lotus -- only in LA!

While in the LA area recently, Paul Wiseman had a few hours to kill between design consultations with two architectural firms. (More on that later). On a recommendation from Corbin Smith, an old friend, Paul headed to Venice to check out the shops. Abbot Kinney Blvd (named after the founder of Venice and builder of its canals) has become a trendy shopping destination with nice boutiques and popular eateries lining both sides of the street.

Glass bottles by Alessandro Zambelli for Seletti at A + R

Paul coveted lots of items at global design shop A + R, but chose to purchase several 1.5-liter glass bottles by Alessandro Zambelli for Seletti. The bottles, based on iconic plastic water container shapes, make a perfect gift for use on a desktop or nightstand.

Paul then wandered into The Sculpture Gardens, a licensed plant nursery which propagates plants from all over the world. It specializes in flowering bushes and small trees suitable for decks, patios, and small gardens. The establishment, originally called Venice Place Arts Center, has a fascinating early history. According to their website, an "interracial partnership of socially involved friends was formed, and a non-profit fine arts school was completed to provide classes for neighborhood children." There were apparently three galleries and ten to fifteen studios on the property. Several old plant specimens date back to the early 1970s when the garden was first planted.

Paul next to a mature prickly pear cactus at The Sculpture Gardens

The architecture along Abbot Kinney Blvd is eclectic. Older bungalows have been gentrified; modern office buildings have been erected; and old storefronts have been attractively updated.

A bungalow with a stylish update, including a pale blue-gray palette and custom stucco work

Playful modern building with commercial space below and apartment living above

A dapper artisan painting the sign for new restaurant Willie Jane, his cappuccino waiting below

An intriguing window display at Chariots on Fire


The area is well worth a side trip next time you have an afternoon in LA!  ~


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. ~