‘I want to be a living work of art’ this was the motto of eccentric Italian heiress and full time muse and lover of all things over the top, Marchesa Luisa Casati.
Some may think that someone like Paris Hilton was excessive in her partying hay day. Simply put compared to Casati she is a lighweight, During the early 20th century Paris, it was common for Casati to parade around with live Cheetahs on a leash and using real snakes as jewellery. If that wasn’t enough she had no mere ordinary servants, they were nude, gilded with gold leaf! In addition to her menagerie of exotic creatures, she frequented many couture houses like Poiret and Fortuney. If you we’re an exiled artist, Casati was your girl. In return for her hospitality, many many artists were inspired by her natural exhibitionism; Man Ray, Boldini, Troubetzkoy, Van Dongen, Boccioni, Marinetti and Brooks are just some of the artists who immortalised her in their work. She is credited for being the first ‘dandy’ woman, clearly she was beyond fabulous. How can anyone not be enchanted by someone who lived by the Grand Canal in Venice on a whim?
Sadly Casati accrued debts of $25 million and had to sell of her possessions (rumour has it that Coco Chanel was one of the bidders). After leaving Paris she lived in relative poverty in London, not allowing her lack of funds to stop her being fabulous (even searching through bins got find feathers with which to adorn herself). She dies 1957. It comes as not much of a surprise that she burnt brightly then faded quickly during her halcyon days, she was hardly a delayed gratification type nor was she the type to budget and save money.
She is the third most depicted woman in art, beaten by Virgin Mary and Cleopatra. The famous Panther design by Cartier is credited to Casati. The fashion house Marchesa, which specialises in haute couture gowns that are particularly opulent and beautiful is named after Casati. Think it can be said that she is remembered as she would have wanted and is likely to be looking down thinking that the excesses were worth while.