Luisa Casati: “A living work of art”

Luisa Casati: “A living work of art”
10/30/2017 Alicia L.

“I want to be a living work of art”- she said

Luisa Casati  (1881-1957) was an Italian heiress, femme fatale, socialite and artist’s muse and patroness of the arts in early 20th-century Europe known for her eccentricities that dominated and delighted European society for nearly three decades. 

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Portrait of Marchesa Luisa Casati by John Augustus Edwin

Casati was born in Milan, she was one of two daughters of parents who had made a big fortune. After the death of her parents, Luisa (15 years old) and her sister became the wealthiest women in Italy.

After a short marriage with the Count Camillo Casati (she needs to live freely) and met the poet Gabriele d’Annunzio, with whom she had a long-term affair, she started her transformation into a femme fatale and muse to the avant-garde.

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Luisa Casati in 1912. Via Ryersson & Yaccarino / The Casati Archives)

She moved to the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in Venice (now the home of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection) where her soirées there would become legendary. She was surrounded by exotic animals and often opium-soaked souls who flitted between its salons and balls, mixing with Europe’s élite. Her garb grew ever more elaborate with each social gathering, her most famous being a dress made of lightbulbs and powered by a generator.

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Luisa Casati with Paul-Cesar Helleu and Giovanni Boldini (center) in 1913 in the gardens at Palazzo dei Leoni in Venice.

Casati was not considered a beauty, but she made herself unforgettable. Her hair was cut and dyed a fiery red, her skin was bleached white. She kept her pupils dark with doses of belladonna, and rimmed their lids in thick black kohl, adding false eyelashes. It was not uncommon to see her prowling Venice with her cheetahs after dark, dressed in a cloak of silk velvet, mother-of-pearl heels and little else.

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She becomes an object of endless fascination for the artists of the era such as Robert de Montesquiou, Romain de Tirtoff (Erté), Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Jean Cocteau, and Cecil Beaton. Casati was an excellent subject for artists, she was transforming herself continually with extravagant clothes and props.

Hothouse flowers, Egyptian statuary, jewels, an ostentation of white peacocks and a coalition of cheetahs with diamond collars, a pet boa constrictor as necklace, gold-painted Nubian servants, crystal balls, cocaine, opium, and champagne were just some of the things she spent her money on, and she threw party after party, each one outdoing the last.

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The Marchesa Casati by Joseph Rous Paget Federicks

By 1930, her empire of dreams had begun to crumble. She had spent her inherited fortune on palaces, parties, antiques, cars, clothes, jewels, travel and art, racking up a personal debt of $25 million. Casati moved to London where she lived in comparative poverty in a one-room flat.

Marchesa Luisa Casati’s was a life devoted to art. She was in herself and in her creations an unforgettable spectacle, and her legacy was not about to fade away.

She was immortalized in art and she continues to inspire in death. You can see her influence in the work of John Galliano (the Spring/Summer 1998 collection for Christian Dior was based on her), Alexander McQueen (Spring/Summer 2007 collection) or Karl Lagerfeld (2010 Cruise-wear collection) amongst many others.

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Alexander McQueen s/s 2007 / Chanel 2010 / Dior s/s 1998.

Luisa Casati is one of my fashion inspirations, and I must confess that sometimes I create jewelry for her and I ask myself if she would wear it. Please do you a favor and read, search and find out more about this exceptional woman and a very true style icon.

Comments (7)

  1. Star of the East 3 weeks ago

    Not the way I would spent a fortune 😀 Very eccentric woman!

    • Author
      Alicia L. 3 weeks ago

      She really was, not the way I would spend a fortune either, that’s why she was so incredible :)

  2. Serpil 3 weeks ago

    Very interesting and cool character! Amazing photos!

  3. Natali 3 weeks ago

    This girl is magical

  4. Stephanie Kilgast 3 weeks ago

    fascinating story about this woman!
    On a side note, there is a whole paragraph that is double in your text, the one starting with “Casati was an excellent subject for artists”

    • Author
      Alicia L. 3 weeks ago

      Thanks! I’ve just corrected it. Crazy editor…

  5. Medieval Journey 3 weeks ago

    What an interesting woman… an inspiration for all women out there to be bold and not afraid of conquering the world, to transform themselves and to live life at fullest.

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