Monday, February 28, 2011

Marchesa Luisa Casati

So last night during for the Academy Awards, actress Hailee Steinfeld, of "True Grit" fame, wore a gorgeous, blush-colored dress with an large tulle skirt by Marchesa. And, not that it takes much nudging to get me on a Marchesa Luisa Casati tangent, but there it was. And here it is. 
Marchesa Luisa Casati (1881- 1957) is the namesake of Marchesa, the fashion label started by British designers Georgina Chapman and and Keren Craig. This painting is my favorite of her, by Giovanni Boldini in 1908. Casati was a female dandy of her day, scandalous for her time, and known to perform outrageous stunts, such as walking through Paris with her pet cheetahs on their diamond leashes. 

The portrait here, by Augustus John, illuminates two of Casati's key attributes -- the flame-colored hair and the kohl-rimmed eyes. "I want to be a living work of art," claimed Casati, and to that end, she spent her enormous fortune as a patron of famous painters and photographers who created her likeness. 
Since her death, many fashion designers have taken inspiration from this muse. I first became aware of this in 1998, when Casati inspired John Galliano as he created his 1998 Spring/Summer collection for Christian Dior. (He was quoted in Women's Wear Daily as saying something only a modern bon vivant would say: "She would throw a party, then have to sell one of her houses to pay for it. We love that!" And it was true. Her inherited fortune was enormous, as were her estates. But she was so lavish in her tastes that she died virtually penniless). More recently he was again inspired by Casati, for his autumn/winter 2007/2008 Bal des Artistes haute couture collection for Dior. J'adore!
Not one to be outdone, Karl Lagerfeld also claimed Casati as inspiration when he designed his 2010 resort collection for Chanel. 
Photographer Paolo Roversi shot this Casati-inspired shot of Tilda Swinton. Amazing. 

Here's John Galliano's perfume, also inspired by Casati ... with obvious references to the Boldini painting. Casati's tombstone is inscribed with this Shakespeare verse from "Antony and Cleopatra" ... and it couldn't be closer to the mark: The quote "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety."


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