Luisa Casati (1881-1957)
A ‘living work of art’: socialite, artists’ muse and eccentric fashion icon.
Marchesa Luisa Casati was an unconventional Italian noblewoman, whose flamboyant signature style is still inspiring fashion designers today.
Luisa was six feet tall and very thin, with a shock of bright red hair, deathly white skin and huge kohl-rimmed eyes. Determined to make her mark as a ‘living work of art’, she wore increasingly extravagant costumes and threw unforgettable parties at her homes in Venice, Rome and Paris.
She wore costumes made from electric lights, peacock feathers, gold, diamonds and armour, wore live snakes as jewellery, and paraded around Venice with blue-painted greyhounds or cheetahs on diamond-encrusted leads. Her portrait, and remarkable outfits, were captured by some of the greatest artists of the time, including photographers Man Ray and Cecil Beaton, and artists Augustus John and Giovanni Boldini. She was immortalised in poems by Ezra Pound and Jack Kerouac.
By the time she was 50, Luisa had amassed huge debts. Her belongings were confiscated and auctioned, and she was forced to live on credit and the generosity of friends. Her final years were spent in poverty in London, where she recycled rubbish to adorn her still-eccentric outfits. She died in 1957, and was buried in Brompton Cemetery with her embalmed Pekinese dog. The mourners at Luisa’s funeral included her personal Venetian gondolier.
Luisa’s larger-than-life style has continued to inspired fashion designers, including John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Alberta Ferretti, jewellers Cartier and Bulgari, and even chocolatiers Vosges Haut-Chocolat.