Author(s): Scot D. Ryersson
She was the most scandalous woman of her day.
The Marchesa Luisa Casati (1881-1957) was Europe's most notorious celebrity, and its most eccentric. For the first three decades of the twentieth century she astounded the continent. Nude servants gilded in gold leaf attended her. Bizarre wax mannequins sat as guests at her dining table. She wore live snakes as jewelry, and she was infamous for her evening strolls, naked beneath her furs, parading cheetahs on diamond-studded leashes. She traveled to Venice, Rome, Capri, and Paris - collecting palaces and a menagerie of exotic animals. Her outlandish homes became the setting for some of the century's most outrageous parties. Artists painted and sculpted her, poets praised her strange beauty, and fashion designers fought for her patronage. Among those she captivated were Gabriele D'Annunzio, Man Ray, Augustus John, Erte, Kees Van Dongen, Jean Cocteau, Cecil Beaton, and Jack Kerouac. Some became lovers, others awestruck admirers, but all were influenced by this extraordinary muse.
Then the extravagance ended. By 1930, Casati was over twenty-five million dollars in debt. Her wealth gone, she fled to London, where she spent her last years, supported by family and friends and as eccentric as ever. Even today, nearly a half century after her death, Casati still fascinates. She has been played on stage by Vivien Leigh and on screen by Ingrid Bergman. And recently, her flamboyant memory inspired a couture collection for Christian Dior. Explored in detail for the first time, this is the story of the Marchesa Luisa Casati.