In our modern world of pseudo-celebrities and Instagram stars, some fashion icons burned brightest in a time now forgotten, but are memorialized today on the runways of Paris and Milan. Known for her henna-ed flame red hair as much as for walking cheetahs around Venice on diamond studded leashes…the Marchesa Casati was larger than life and chic as the devil. The jetsetting art collector who’s goal was to be a “living work of art,” was herself the subject of many paintings, sculptures and photographs in the early part of the twentieth century. Oft described as a lesser-known Mona Lisa, this globe trotting Italian aristocrat was a muse to some of the greatest artists of her generation and renowned by society and art patrons of her time. The impression she left was immeasurable.
She also made a name for herself because she rejected the status quo. As a noblewoman she could have lived quietly and comfortably partaking in dinner parties and charity events but instead sought knowledge and kept the company of literary geniuses, authors, museum curators, sculptors, and other artists. She embraced all that made her unique, and rejected living a life as a kept woman. Her parties were the thing of legend with costumes and indulgences so over the top they would have made the Great Gatsby jealous. Decades before the ground-breaking naked restaurant’s of today, it is said nude servants gilded only in gold leaf attended her. Among her most prized possessions were a gold custom made throne, occult relics, and ancient Egyptian statuary. Her legion of admirers spanned the globe and included Diaghilev, Picasso, Man Ray, Proust, Erté, and the most famous of all…Kaiser Willhelm II. She was partially responsible for the beginning and success of the Ballets russes, and helped many stuggling authors and writers early in their careers.
Artists today are still captivated by the Marchesa, with the “dramatically aesthetic” fashion line (WWD) of the same name drawing inspiration from her life and times. Everyone from John Galliano, Tom Ford, Alexander McQueen and Karl Lagerfeld have found inspiration from the life of this fiery haired noblewoman. Her legend lives on in art, literature, poetry, fashion, and urban legend.