Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Age Cannot Wither Her






As readers of Savoir Faire would have noticed that Marchesa Casati has featured quite frequently on the pages of Savoir Faire. Even though she died in 1957, she has long continued to be a source of inspiration to new generations of artists, designers and people with a hankering for savoir faire and personal style.

After mounting debts (around $326 million in today’s terms) and an auction where her most treasured possessions were sold off she fled to London. At one stage the most wealthy and scandalous woman of her times, she died virtually penniless in London in 1957. Living off the charity of friends and family and in a variety of rented rooms, she lived out her days, not forsaking any of the savoir faire that she was known for in her past. She was even rumored to be seen rummaging in dustbins searching for feathers to decorate her hair.

Her last days were also spent making collages from cut out magazines. Here the tables are turned and this time she is the artist.

She still had presence though. Quentin Crisp left us a thoroughly wonderful description of her in this period

“Quite suddenly and simply by chance, I once met a bizarre lady while taking tea with some friends in London. She arrived wearing black velvet from head to foot, her mouth painted blood red, and carrying a very tall umbrella with a decorated handle. And, you must understand, this ensemble was being worn in the middle of the day. This picturesque ruin of a woman was very tall and thin, and gave the impression of formidable strength. It was then I was introduced to the Marchesa Luisa Casati for the first and last time. She had made her entrance into that room looking wonderful and saying very little. She wasn’t beautiful—she was spectacular. Here was a woman possessing a presence one would never forget. “

Her biographers Ryersson and Yaccarino tell us, "A later acquaintance recalled how Luisa invited him for gracious dinners of tinned food, and of her habit of telephoning him to ask with adventurous enthusiasm: 'I have ten shillings. Shall we have a bottle of cheap wine or go for a taxi ride?'" This was a life where money may have been squandered, but pleasure was not.

She died at her last residence, 32 Beaufort Gardens in on 1 June 1957, aged 76 and interred in Brompton Cemetery. The quote "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety" from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra was inscribed on her tombstone. She was buried wearing not only her black and leopard skin finery but also a pair of false eyelashes. She shares her coffin with one of her beloved stuffed Pekinese dogs, which she was in the habit of getting stuffed when they died with the bills sent to her daughter for payment.


21 comments:

  1. It makes me so sad to read that she died virtually penniless.
    Such was the price for being a woman who was on the fringe.
    Happy New Year David.
    I wish you and yours a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2012!

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  2. I've never heard of her, David! It's hard to imagine losing the equivalent of $326 million — she must have had one heck of a lifestyle! One more good reason for trust funds ...

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  3. I remember reading a book about her years ago...which reminds me...I never *did* get around to getting that cheetah.

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  4. such a remarkable woman. some might dismiss her as frivolous and with no character but i daresay that she was a character.

    http://halfwhiteboy.blogspot.com/

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  5. As a new subscriber here, I am unfamiliar with her sad and moving story. If she shared the cautious part of our minds that allocates protecting that economic safety margin, she would have been spared those hardships, but then again, we probably wouldn't still be reading about her.
    --Road to Parnassus

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  6. I love her! And I've read the biography "Infinite Variety" too. ;)))
    Wonderful that you've found the collage! cool!!!!

    Alessandro - The Fashion Commentator

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  7. Happy 2012!

    Interesting, as usual.

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  8. It's a very interesting post, as always.
    She was so unique and i really love her.
    The collage is fantastic.

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  9. enriched post my friend

    www.pinstripeprince.blogspot.com

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  10. A great post to start the year with David! To have Quentin Crisp described as "bizarre" she must have really stood out from the crowd. Love the part on her deciding how to spend her ten shillings. So much we can learn from her..

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  11. There are over 200 pictures of her in the fabulous oversized art book, "The Marchesa Casati: Portraits of a Muse" by Ryersson and Yaccarino, the same guys that wrote "Infinite Variety". A MUST for everyone's coffee-table!

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  12. so much to admire here.

    Shall we have a bottle of cheap wine or go for a taxi ride?'" This was a life where money may have been squandered, but pleasure was not.--oh that we all live so fully.

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  13. What an incredible lady. She did not loose her sense of humor even in that state of financial ruin. It seems with or without money she lead a grand life.

    Thanks for sharing this.

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  14. You've got to love anyone who is buried in leopard print and false eye-lashes...something we should all aspire to.
    -Catherine

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  15. As always a post full of history, fashion and interesting facts. Hope you too had a wonderful happy new year!

    hugs
    Andy
    The Black Label

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  16. You know I'm enthralled by her...

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  17. Sounds like someone I'd have wanted to invite over for dinner!

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  18. Many thanks all for your wonderful comments. A lady that was way ahead of her time, who lived exactly as she pleased!

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  19. What a fabulous and inspirational woman. The tragedy is right out of a novel (Edith Wharton perhaps?). I love a person who can walk into a room with so much presence, with money or not. Happy New Year!

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  20. Fascinating and enlightening as always David!

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