(Image courtesy of courtesy of Ryersson & Yaccarino / The Casati Archives)
It may be 120 degrees in Phoenix, but in the world of fashion, Summer 2016 has already begun to give way to Fall. Disparate though the specifics of Fall’s fashions may be, the take-away from each collection remains the same: high drama. Upon even closer inspection the seemingly incongruous designs appear to share a common muse: the Marchesa Luisa Casati.
The early loss of her parents appears to have cultivated Luisa’s desire to leave an indelible mark on the world beginning in 1900, when she married Camillo, Marchese Casati Stampa di Soncino. As Marchesa, she leveraged her influence, title and wealth to go beyond being a mere patron of the arts and become a living work of art herself.
A jolie laide (unconventional beauty), Casati’s physical attributes provided an ideal medium for dramatic self-expression. Tall and rake thin, with a shock of flame colored hair and high cheekbones, Casati already resembled the subject of a Gustav Klimt painting, but she further exaggerated her features by rimming her huge green eyes with inches of liner and dripped (poisonous) atropine in them so they glittered. She owned a menagerie of exotic animals that added to her mystique and acted as living accessories for her outrageous ensembles: snakes were worn as jewelry, pet cheetahs accompanied her on diamond leashes, and blue peacocks walked beside her, unable to compete with her exotic beauty.
(Images courtesy of Ryersson & Yaccarino / The Casati Archives)
Unsurprisingly, artists of every medium flocked to her side, and her generous patronage and limitless provision of subject matter made her one of the most artistically represented women in history. Painters, sculptors, dancers, authors, composers, directors, photographers, actors, poets and clothing designers were—and continue to be—inspired by her. The Futurist, Surrealist and Dadaist artistic movements owe much of their existence to Casati’s influence; she was the inspiration for Cartier’s trademark panther jewelry; Venice’s Palazzo de Leoni, now the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, was her former residence.
(l to r) Galliano for Dior (1998), Lagerfeld for Chanel (2010) and McQueen for Givenchy (1997).
(Images courtesy of Vogue Runway)
Suddenly, Fall 2016’s outwardly unrelated trends of rich velvet, gleaming metallics, statement furs and dramatic shapes seem to have an underlying theme after all. Even more astonishing is that it originated from a single, remarkable woman.
(l to r) Marchesa, Dries van Noten, Moschino, Alberta Ferretti and Saint Laurent Paris.
(Images courtesy of Vogue Runway)
For further information on the divine Marchesa Casati, please visit the official Casati site by clicking here. Suggested reading: Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati – The Definitive Edition (2004) and The Marchesa Casati: Portraits of a Muse (2009), both by Scot D. Ryersson and Michael Orlando Yaccarino.
One afternoon in Tucson, Arizona, where Black Cat Vintage had a brick-and-mortar boutique, a handsome couple arrived at my door and asked to come in. I later learned that the pair—immaculately dressed with High Street British accents—were in fact half-brother and sister. The sister, a journalist, was interested in taking several vintage pieces back to the UK to wear to the BAFTAs. Her half-brother had immigrated to the United States and currently lived in Arizona.
The sister became a repeat customer of Black Cat Vintage, but my only interaction with her brother was on that first day the two came into my store. He had the discretion never to mention it, but I later learned quite by accident that his great grandmother was the Marchesa Luisa Casati.
I am both relieved and regret not knowing his provenance when we met. Part of me feels I might have withered and died upon learning his iconic ancestry; another part regrets the lost opportunity to learn firsthand about such a cultural treasure. Nonetheless I am genuinely honored to have had the experience of a single degree of separation from this unique woman, and to have met such a refined man.
What a small world indeed!