Sunday, 31 July 2016

Marchesa Casati - "I want to be a living work of art."

The Marchesa Luisa Casati (1881-1957) was Europe's most notorious celebrity. Her extravagant lifestyle, eccentric personality, and scandalous escapades captivated and inspired some of the most influential artists of her time. She was born into a life of luxury in 1881 and reportedly the richest and most eccentric Italian heiress, muse and patroness of the arts in the early 20th century.

As a teenager, she inherited an immense fortune that she later used to fund her transformation into a living work of art. In her ruined Venetian palace (the same that houses the Peggy Guggenheim Collection) she held legendary soirées, surrounding herself with artists and intellectuals, dabbling in the occult, wearing live snakes as jewellery and parading around the city with cheetahs on jewelled leashes. Her signature look consisted of eyes blackened with kohl, deathly pale face, and crimson-painted lips. * Apparently not only were 'her eyes heavily kohled but they were also sprinkled with deadly belladonna, which gave them quite an extraordinary sparkle'.

The Marchesa as Empress Elisabeth of Austria by Man Ray (1935)

Marchesa Casati in a fountain costume by Paul Poiret (1910s)

Marchesa Casati in Léon Bakst's Queen of the Night costume (1922)

Dior’s Spring/Summer 1998 haute couture show resembled one of the Marchesa’s extravagant masquerade balls. Set in the Opéra Garnier in Paris, where the Marchesa herself had attended many events, it reportedly cost $2 million to stage. John Galliano designed a romantic collection featuring fur-lined kimonos, veils, lace, and sleek, floor-length gowns heavily embellished with beads and fringe. One model wore a piece of armour covering the whole arm, evoking the Marchesa’s 1925 Cesare Borgia costume. “Although no longer with us, her life stays as a beacon and as a constant source of inspiration,” said Galliano. A decade later, he launched an eponymous perfume inspired by the Marchesa’s first Boldini portrait.

Accessed 31/7/16

Inspired by her eccentric style and unusual beauty designers such as John Galliano and Karl Lagerfeld play tribute in their Haute Couture collections as as well as the Marchesa style being channeled in high fashion editorials.

Georgina Chapman for Harpers Bazaar

Marisa Berenson dressed as the Marchesa for the Rothschild Ball, 1972.

Tilda Swinton as the Marchesa

Dramatic Black Eyes on the Dries Van Noten Runway March 2016.