Costume Inspiration: Marchesa Luisa Casati

 Luisa posing for Man Ray

Luisa posing for Man Ray

 A group photo from a Marchesa Costumed Party. Luisa is in all white center right.

A group photo from a Marchesa Costumed Party. Luisa is in all white center right.

 Augusta Johns portrait of Luisa

Augusta Johns portrait of Luisa

Everyone has seen photos or painting of her and the vast majority alway wondered who is this dark mysterious creature. I attended a gallery show once back in the early 2000’s and several photos of her were on the wall. Many in attendance commented on her sad and distracting nature. To me she was the true definition of Avant Garde and beyond sad, the life you see in her eyes was prevalent in her history. Luisa von Amman was born into a wealthy Italian family and in her youth her father passed away making Luisa and her older sister Francesca two of the wealthiest women in Italy. At the age of 19 Luisa married Camillo, Marchese Casati Stampo di Sorcino. The couple had one son and their marriage ran short with the couple living in separate residence for the rest of their lives. The couple did separate legally in 1914 but they remained married till Camillo’s death in 1943. 

The stories of Luisa’s extravagant parties at her home in Venice, the Ritz in Paris and the Isle de Carpi were legendary. Her star shined bright from 1900-1930, her homes became beacons for the artistic world. From artists such as Augusta Johns and sculptor Giacomo Bella to photographers Man Ray and Cecil Beaton. Her great love was for literature and she amassed a great list of lovers and patrons from the literary craft. From Proust to T.E. Lawrence, they were all mesmerized with her persona. From her dyed flame red hair to her hypnotic green eyes, of which she claimed a few drops of belladonna made them sparkle like green gems. She was an eccentric for sure!

Luisa is considered the first “Dandy” woman, her eccentric style even gave great awe to such women as Colette, Coco Chanel and even Schiaparelli. Her love of animals was not just as a spectator but in everyday life. She kept exotic animals as accessories rather than pets. She could often be seen walking the avenues of Paris wearing her boa constrictor or her two cheetahs. Cartier drew great inspiration from Luisa’s fetish for snakes around her neck it was translated it into their famous “Snake” necklaces. They also made the famed “Panther” necklace based on the Marchesa’s love for felines. Her clothing was no short of iconic, she was a great patron of designers Poiret, Bakst and Etré.

Yes her life is like a laundry list of who’s who! But, man could she throw a party! From the balls she held at her Palais Rose outside of Paris to the masquerade parties at her Palazzo on the Grand Canal in Venice. She also summered at her home on the Isle de Capri. Her arrival had the locals all fired up because when she was in town, their world would be turned upside down. During the 1920’s, Luise even managed to turn America upside down. She travelled to New York City and Hollywood. During her trips she made a number of friends, like author Ezra Pound. Sadly she found America dull and drab and never went back.

Marchesa Luisa kept the party going till the end of the 20’s, with the 30’s dawning, her reign as queen of the great parties came to an end. In 1930 Luisa would find out that her families fortune was now gone and she was now in debt of 12 million dollars (167 million in todays dollar). To cover the enormous debt, all of her personal belongings were auctioned off, along with her enormous collection of art. A lot of the items were bought by good friends (like Coco Chanel) and former lovers (like Augusta Johns). Who in kind returned a lot of the items she cherished most back to her. Sadly the end of her fairytale life was sadly dark and Grimm like her outward persona.