interesting women, interesting lives: luisa casati

she often paraded with her pet cheetahs and wore live snakes as jewelry. meet 20th century madcap heroine marchesa luisa casati.
July 17, 2015  |   column: DELIBERATE POLISH

64_marchesa luisa casati

 luisa casati by joseph paget-fredericks, ca. 1940’s

marchesa luisa casati stampa di soncino
“i want to be a living work of art.”
she kept cheetahs—wearing jeweled collars—as pets and wrapped live pythons around her neck and arms like jewelry. she once wore a dress covered in lightbulbs, and a generator attached. at her extravagant parties in venice and capri attended by royals and her menagerie of animals, house staff were adorned head-to-toe in gold leaf. writer jean cocteau once said of her, “it was no longer a question of being liked or disliked, least of all of astonishing people. it was rather a matter of astounding them.”
the marchesa luisa casati stampa di soncino, born luisa adele rosa maria amman in milan, was an eccentric to say the least. and she loved to play dress up.
but she was also a great patron of the arts and served as muse to cocteau, of course, as well as photographers cecil beaton and man ray and designers mariano fortuny and paul poiret. (you’ll still find her over-the-top aesthetic trickling into collections today.)
while her taste for extravagances eventually became her undoing, she lived life in her own wildly original way until the end: when she died, she was buried in her false eyelashes alongside her taxidermied pekingese, and the epitaph on her tombstone is a quote from shakespeare’s antony and cleopatra: “age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.”

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