Dress-down Friday, hommage edition


Casati preview

Pity the poor old Marchesa Casati, just lounging about there in the past being her reliably daft self, her eternal repose interrupted twice a year as fashion designers – on deadline, naturally, and not even stopping for tea – dash out of the present and strip her of surplus finery with which to pad out their collections. Beginning with John Galliano in the late 1990s, it seems most major designers have paraphrased her dark enchantments at some point (not least the label named for her), attempting to imitate the inimitable, a paradoxical process covered at greater length here.

Further pieces of the Marchesa littered about the present can be found in a recent book about her son-in-law, Jack Hastings, the “Red Earl“, as well as a film hommage to Jean Cocteau. Right now, however, the best place for an unmediated hit of Casatian wonder is in Venice, once the Marchesa’s home, where the Palazzo Fortuny is presenting an exhibition which promises to “immerse the visitor in the atmosphere of the Divine Marchesa’s life” by way of numerous portraits, personal effects and of course clothes. As the exhibition reflects, Casati’s self-willed singularity wasn’t entirely without precedent, and she had her own dead dame muses, particularly the Countess de Castiglione and Elisabeth, a.k.a. Sissi. The latter, as it happens, has her own exhibition in the Hofburg which pays hommage (how about I just stop using that word now?) to her wardrobe and runs until her birthday, Christmas Eve.

The Marchesa is naturally not the only quirky old broad to appear on the runways. The recent spate of ready-to-wear shows alone has given us Nancy Cunard, Marjorie Cameron and Annemarie Schwarzenbach (the latter coming from the house if not the hand of Jil Sander). Berlin-based maker of ladies’ underthings Lost in Wonderland recently issued a range inspired by great danseues of yore; their references are shameless Strange Flowers bait, featuring Anita Berber, Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan and Valeska Gert.

Finally, while we’re in a fashiony kind of mood, I urge you to read the recent-ish article about Nicolas de Gunzburg, socialite/arthouse ghoul/glossy mag luminary (and a mentor to the recently departed Oscar de la Renta). It’s one of those “partygoers of yesteryear” pieces Vanity Fair uses to soften the transition from its puddle-deep cover stories on the celebrity du jour to the long-winded forensic scandal reports templated by the late Dominick Dunne. I’ve always had a soft spot for ‘Niki’ Gunzburg, but was won over entirely by this reported exchange with Diana Vreeland: “Vreeland once inquired of Niki, ‘What is the name of the Seventh Avenue designer who hates me so?’—to which he replied, ‘Legion.'”


  1. James as usual delightful and witty. The Vera Wang collection also seems to have gotten its imagination tweaked by these old broads who are so often not credited for inspiring the up and coming and newly arrived fashion trend setters. Slight of hand, I suppose. I think that Brooks’ Casati is featured on the catalogue. I vaguely remember someone mentioning that last week. I have an upcoming talk at the Smithsonian, Nov 20 at the Archives of American Art-at 12:00–The Romaine Brooks You Never Knew–which should prove a revelation as I debunk a number of myths about both Romaine and Natalie.

  2. You’ve just mentioned so many of my favorite people that my head is about to explode.

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