Mystery Monday: Marchesa Luisa Casati

One of Baron de Meyer’s photographs of Luisa Casati, 1912. Found in Vogue. © 2012 Conde Nast.

“The door to the room where we sat chatting suddenly opened. A dead woman entered. Her superb body was modelling a dress of white satin that was wrapped around her like a shroud and dragged behind her. A bouquet of orchids hid her breast. Her hair was red and her complexion livid like alabaster. Her face was devoured by two enormous eyes, whose black pupils almost overwhelmed her mouth painted a red so vivid that it seemed like a strip of coagulated blood. In her arms, she carried a baby leopard. It was the Marchesa Casati. ”  – Gabriel-Louis Pringué (7)

If you guessed Marchesa Casati, you are correct! So, who was she?

“Who is Luisa? … The one woman who ever astonished D’Annunzio, the one woman who was painted by Boldini, Van Dongen, Augustus John, and dozens of others…Luisa, who wore necklaces of snakes and rested on pillows of leopards—all of them alive, of course. Luisa, who had a palace in Milan and another in Venice, who owned the most beautiful of emeralds, who wore chinchilla on the Lido and lamé in St. Moritz … Luisa, who ordered the likeness of her lovers modeled in waxen figurines. Luisa, who once had everything and who now has nothing, apart from the few friends she continues to astonish. In a word—Luisa Casati.”  – Tony de Gandarillas, 1950 (3)

John, Augustus Edwin. The Marchesa Casati, 1919. Oil on canvas, 96.5 x 68.6cm. On view at the Art Gallery of Ontario. © 2009 Art Gallery of Ontario

Boldini, Giovanni. Casati, 1911-1913. Oil on Canvas, 130 x 176 cm. Found in Vogue. © 2012 Conde Nast. On view at The Galleria nazionale d’arte moderna e contemporane.

What did she wear? These quotes, from the Vogue article, “People are Talking about: Extravagant Casati”, describe four of her extreme outfits:

“She herself arrived last, a kind of Tiepolo goddess, wearing a crown of ostrich feathers, a hoop-skirted gown of gold cloth, her train borne by small blacks [sic] bedecked with plumes, her cheetahs at her heels and held in leash by ropes of turquoise.”

“…The Marchesa appeared in the piazza San Marco in Venice in a cloak of antique red brocade, a gold chain around her neck, a fur cap on her head, accompanied by two Afghans with collars of turquoise and follow by a turbaned Moor.”

“In Paris, she appeared in her box at Opera with the tail of a white peacock unfurled around her head. She was Andarte, Salambô; and she was Lady Macbeth the night she made her entrance after having had the neck of a chicken slit above her right hand.”

Casati continues to inspire us today. According to http://www.marchesacasati.com, more than a few recent collections have been inspired by Casati’s life and legend. Here are a few examples:

Alexander Mcqueen S/S 2007 RTW. From Style.com

Chanel Resort 2010 Collection. From Style.com

NARS Cosmetics for Zac Posen Pre-Fall 2011. From Style.com

A strong voice can be found among the multitude of interesting quotes  and descriptions of the Marchesa. It is her own! The letters she left behind, with their esoteric language and romantic imagery, add to her mystique. After beginning her affair with Gabriele D’Annunzio, an Italian poet, Casati’s extreme behavior and costume evolved, incorporating the fur, feathers, and jeweled elements for which Casati become so famous. D’Annunzio gave Casati the nickname Kore, in memory of the Parthenon’s archaic statue, and it is as Kore that she appears as in his poetry (3). In the text of the following telegrams, found in the Vogue article, “People are Talking about: Extravagant Casati”, we see Casati’s own clever use of poetic language:

“I have a ferocious turtledove.”

“Kore is dead because she wished to draw near the gods, her heart is asleep forever.”

“The waxen figure is in the house of crystal and come see the lagoon through the windows of gold.”

And finally and most famously, here is Casati’s wish:

“I want to be a living work of art!”

Looking for more information on your favorite Fashionistas? Be sure to visit our site on Fashionista Fridays!

For more information, please see the following sources:
1. The Art Gallery of Ontario website: http://artmatters.ca
2. “Features: The Marchesa Casati Gives A Fete of Ancient Splendour.” Vogue, Oct 01, 1927.
3. Jullian, Phillipe. “People are Talking about: Extravagant Casati.” Vogue, Sept 01, 1970.
4. The Official Marchesa Casati website: http://www.marchesacasati.com
5. Ryersson, Scot D., Michael Orlando Yaccarino and Quentin Crisp. Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.
6. Ryersson, Scot D., Michael Orlando Yaccarino. Marchesa Casati: Portraits of a Muse. New York: Abrams, 2009.
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