A Woman to Know: Marchesa Luisa Casati

I want to be a living work of art. — Marchesa Luisa Casati

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

Marchesa Luisa cut quite the figure. She always drew an audience, even on her nighttime strolls along the river in Venice. As legend has it, she'd set out at sunset, walking two pet leopards on a jeweled leash and wearing only jewels and a fur coat (with nothing underneath, of course). She horrified Italian society with her notoriously eccentric style: dyed-red hair, necklaces made of entwined live snakes, peacock feather headresses, silky pajamas she'd wear as day dresses, glamorous ballgowns she'd wear as nighties.

In her palace on the water, Luisa entertained famous figures like Man Ray, Cecil Beaton and Augustus John. She acted as muse to any artist on the periphery of her social circle, begging many to take her photo or paint her portrait to "commission my immortality." Jack Kerouac took a copy of one of her portraits back with him to America, as a memento of his time in her odd home. As he wrote in "San Francisco Blues":

Marchesa Casati
Is a living doll
pinned to my Frisco
skid row wall

Her eyes are vast
Her skin is shiny
Blue veins
And wild red hair
And shoulders sweet and tiny

The contemporary fashion house Marchesa, known for its bejeweled red carpet dresses, is inspired by the original Casati's vast eyes and shoulders sweet and tiny.

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