Thursday, August 13, 2009
Style Icon of the Week!
Born in 1881, the fabled Marchesa Luisa Casati triumphed as Europe's brightest star-figure. Possibly the most artistically represented woman since the Virgin Mary and Cleopatra, she was painted by Giovanni Boldini, and Kees Van Dongen; sculpted by Giacomo Balla, and Jacob Epstein; sketched by Alastair and photographed by Man Ray and Cecil Beaton.
She was dressed by Paul Poiret and Erté, and rubbed shoulders with Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel while whirling through the Parisian night-life. She wore live snakes as jewelry, strolled naked beneath her furs through her gardens whilst parading cheetahs led on diamond-studded collars, and often sat with wax mannequins at her dinner table.
Journeying wherever her fancy took her, the Marchesa traveled to Rome, Venice and Paris collecting palaces and exotic animals along her way.
Tall and thin while alive, her appearance often shocked and awed those she encountered, making her a legend around Europe. A thick blaze of flame-coloured hair seemingly swirled around her cadaverous, pale face where large, green eyes were set. She exaggerated her eyes with large, false eye-lashes and surrounding rings of black kohl, while droplets of poisonous belladonna made them glitter like emeralds.
She spent fortunes on lavish masquerades; inspired Tennessee Williams, Jack Kerouac; and was portrayed by Ingrid Bergman and Elizabeth Taylor.
As the daughter of a wealthy cotton manufacturer, Casati developed an intense passion for visual art, encouraged by frequent visits to local art galleries and museums. Havng found herself in the constraints of a predictable marriage, she openly started having affairs with famous Italian writer, Gabriele D'Anunzio fueling the continental gossip columns. It was only then that she made over herself, appearing like some bewitching figure from a fairy tale. Her critics of course attacked her lifestyle, deeming it utter frivolity, but in hindsight it's obvious that the Marchesa wasn't interested in being an incendiary figure; she was more interested in eking out her own immortality achieving this by wooing the talents of experienced and novice artists. As such, she became the muse for innumerable photographers, designers, painters and sculptors, offering them her considerable wealth, ideas and influence for over thirty years.
By 1930, Casati had run into great debt, Unable to satisfy her creditors, her possessions were seized and auctioned off in 1932. Among her bidders was Coco Chanel. Many original works of the Marchesa were lost and remain untraceable even today.
After fleeing to London, Casati spent the next two decades amassing a different following, living a less grand life. She was supported financially by her daughter, granddaughter and a few loyal friends, before she passed on in 1957.
As she would have desired, the legacy of the Marchesa lives on to this day. She has been channeled in recent fashion editorials, most notably by Georgina Chapman for Bazaar, while her image continues to inspire elaborate centre-pieces for countless important exhibitions world-wide. She has provided inspiration for recent collections for Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen and John Galliano. Most recently Galliano launched a new perfume paying homage to Casati, the flacon's colour scheme recalling the black and purple of Giovanni Boldini's famous 1909 portrait of the Marchesa while in May 2009, designer Karl Lagerfeld premiered his Casati-inspired Cruise 2009/2010 Ready-to-Wear Collection for Chanel on the famous Lido Beach of Venice where the Marchesa once dazzled.