Casati strikes a Martha Graham pose – by Mark Karl Hughes, August 2014

‘The famous Marchesa Casati has been staying in London; in a prosaic world she provides an element of fantasy and romance.’ Cecil Beaton, Vogue, October 1, 1930

Her eyes are vast
Her skin is shiny
Blue veins
And wild red hair

Jack Kerouac, 74th Chorus

The Marchesa Casati – A woman for our time

A young fashion designer yesterday was talking to me about ideas for his new collection of womenswear. They are to be showpieces, alluring, dramatic, desirable; contemporary. Who would be a Muse who would provide him with inspiration to create a collection that had all this, as well as pizzazz? Who is it that those two well-known muses of note – the late Issy Blow and Daphne Guinness have, I believe, styled themselves on? It is, of course, the charismatic Marchesa Casati – the woman who has inspired artists from D’Annunzio to Jack Kerouac, Man Ray to Tilda Swinton, Vivien Leigh to John Galliano. The woman, in short who wanted to be a living work of art; the fabulous, the divine, Marchesa Casati.

There were women more beautiful, more talented and intelligent that shone in the firmament of style in the early twentieth century. But few blazed across it with such brilliance as Marchesa Luisa Casati (1881-1957). It was, therefore, a gift in 2009 to have the opportunity to work as a consultant and writer with Thomas Persson, then creative director of Acne Paper, the stylist Mattias Karlsson Tilda and Miss Swinton for Acne Paper on a Casati story. The acclaimed pictures by Paolo Roversi show the actress embodying Casati’s sulphurous style; the story called ‘The Lost Album of Marchesa Casati.’

Jean Cocteau called her ‘heaven’s beautiful serpent….’ Erté described her as ‘the most extravagantly odd woman I have ever met.’ Dressed by Bakst and Poiret, or self-styled in black lace accessorised with a crystal ball and a brace of cheetahs, Casati was exotic and extravagant, a chimera of Theodora, Circe, Salome and Comtesse Castiglione.

Now, to link up with the first major exhibition on Casati at the Museo Fortuny in Venice, it’s great to be able to give her some attention again. So – here are Mark Karl Hughes’s drawings of Casati, along with Paolo Roversi’s haunting photographs of Tilda-Casati, in the first of a three parter on the woman who still continues to fascinate and inspire.

Man Ray portrait of Marchesa Casati, 1922

Necklaces by Lanvin, leopard jewellery by Cartier, gold and black lacquer ring by Dior Joaillerie, 1910s black embroidered velvet stole,Vintage Academe., Acne Paper 2009

Erotic Casati, by her then lover, Kees van Dongen,in pensive mood with her ‘sloughi’ – one of the greyhounds, 1915

Casati in Charles James, Mark Karl Hughes, August 2014

Black opera coat embellished with lace and trimmed with marabou, c. 1910, Vintage Academe. Devoré velvet printed top by Nicholas Ghesquière for Balenciaga. Black bejewelled crepe dress and black embroidered socks by Miu Miu. Black gloves and boots by Azzedine Alaia, the yellow gold pendant necklace carrying unspecified ‘precious stone’ is by Bulgari., the little handbag is by Vintage Academe, from  ‘The Lost Album of hte Marchesa Casati’, Acne Paper AW 2009

Casati in Elizabethan-inspired doublet/jacket with drape skirt, by Mark Karl Hughes August 2014

Black nylon cape with gold metal chains, by Junya Watanabe, vlack velvet dress by Azzedine Alaia, black embroidered boots by Manolo Blahnik, vintage yellow gold snake bracelet from Lydia Courteille, coloured stones and yellow gold rings by Michael Zobel for Acne.

Casati with crystal ball in an outfit designed by Paul Poiret, photographer unknown, c.1913

Christian Lacroix couture, cream and black embroidered muslin dress; black silver fox stole, Hockley, silver and black bracelet, Jean Paul Gaultier, Chinese headdress stylist’s own.

Casati Dancing in black silk fringe shimmy dress and royal purple fox bolero, by Mark Karl Hughes, August 2014

Black silver fox stole, Hockley, earrings by Erickson Beamon/Vicki Sarge, Chinese headdress stylist’s own

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