“The women of the world today all dress alike. They are like so many loaves of bread. To be beautiful one must be unhurried. Personality is needed. There is too much sameness. The world seems to have only a desire for more of this sameness. To be different is to be alone. I do not like what is average. So I am alone.”
Before Gaga, before Madonna, before any other fashion icon- there was The Marchesa Casati. Never heard of her? Me neither. But somehow I stumbled upon this outlandish woman and have become fascinated by her.
Born Louisa Amman, her life started as her parents’ lives ended when Louisa was only 13. Her father was one of the wealthiest men in Italy when he died and his death made both Louisa and her sister the wealthiest heiress in Italy. It was her parents deaths at such a young age combined with excessive fortune that began the creation we know today as The Marchesa Casati. Uncommonly tall (almost 6 feet!), awkwardly skinny, lonely, and with nobody to guide her, Louisa began a life long fondness with the occult. Later in her life she spent a summer in Capri, wandering the streets in a long black gown, green hair and carrying a crystal ball.
By age 21, Louisa was married and had a child- a girl who was to be her only offspring. Though her husband gave her his name- she was now to be known as The Marchesa Casati, it was her affair with Gabriele D’Annunzio that really influenced her style. Similar to Chanel’s Boy Capel, D’Annunzio’s love affair with The Marchesa would transform her from a gangly girl into a woman of splendor. It was for him Casati dyed her mousy brown hair red. It was for him she began to rim her already immense eyes with black kohl to further enlarge them. As each other’s muse they would both become infamous- her for eccentricities and him for his writings and fascist politics.
The Marchesa started her life as an extremely wealthy wife and mother and ended her life as one of the most recognized women in the world- and this was way before television and the internet. Casati achieved her notoriety by living her life as if she was a living work of art and cultivating relationships with the leading artist of her time.
Painted by Boldini, photographed by Man Ray, dressed by Poiret, Fortuny, and Erte, and muse to countless others, The Marchesa Casati achieve immortality by the vast number of art created for her.
What I find intriguing is many of the eccentricities seen today in the uber wealthy can all be traced back to The Marchesa Casati. Like Hugh Hefner, Casati collected exotic animals including parrots, monkeys, albino blackbirds, white peacocks, and even cheetahs. Like Barbara Streisand insisting her microphone be white instead of black on Oprah, The Marchesa painted her gondola white even though by law gondolas were to painted black. Like Lady Gaga strolling through the airport on foot high platform shoes and a dress barely covering her lady parts, The Marchesa did it first by wandering down the Piazza San Marco in nothing but pearls and a long cloak. But The Marchesa did something that, as far as I know, no other celebrity has managed to achieve- instead of a photograph on her passport, Luisa had a reproduction of a painted portrait of herself!
Speaking of Lady Gaga, if you find her wardrobe outlandish then you can thank Casati for them. She was known to wear live snakes as jewelry, stuffed snakes as a headdress a la Medusa, glued golden ram’s horns to her head, and was known to wear a tiny mechanical bird as a ring. Once she wore a white dress covered with white peacock feathers to the Paris Opera. Before she entered she had her chauffeur poor chicken’s blood on her arm. Apparently it caused such a stir that several women fainted after seeing her ensemble! And you thought Ozzy Ozborne was hard core.
Due to vast overspending, The Marchesa died penniless. But her obsessiveness and unconventionality has continued to be the muse to many.
“The Marchesa lived partly as a slave to her dream world. She had two venues: her palaces and her aristocratic circles. They served as stages where everyone was usually an actor, but when she made her entrance, they automatically became spectators or background extras.”