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.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin