As a teenager I was given a book about the great photographer Adolph de Meyer. I just fell in love with the elegance and gauzy-otherworldly quality of his work; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a De Meyer picture I didn’t like. In that particular book was a wealth of beautiful images, but one stood out: an angular young woman with bobbed, wavy hair leaning over the back of a chair. She is swathed in ropes of pearls and holds a cigarette holder in her right hand. But what affected me the most about this photo were her eyes, and the extraordinary intensity of her gaze- I sensed that no detail would get past this woman.
I found the book again years ago and began to wonder, ‘Who was she?”
She was, of course, the famous (or infamous, depending with whom you speak) Marchesa Luisa Casati. The Marchesa was born in 1881 to a very wealthy family in Milan and went on to become a muse and style icon to countless artists, writers, poets and designers.
She died in 1957, but her influence is still felt beyond the grave. I knew it was only a matter of time before she influenced me as well. I created a file titled “Marchesa” and began collecting images of her in preparation for whatever I would end up designing. I kept this in the back of my mind for the past four years, but finally in January the time felt right.
I noticed that the Marchesa wore a specific piece of jewelry in so many of the pictures made of her: a ring with two large pearls, one light and one dark. Here was my inspiration.
I’ve created a ring featuring a white, freshwater pearl and a black, faceted onyx. Flanking the stones are grape leaves, and I’ve carved the setting to evoke an infinity symbol, or lemniscate .
For me, this ring has proved to be a powerful reminder of balance: that there is light and dark in all of us.
The Marchesa certainly knew this: she experienced extraordinary wealth and staggering poverty, heartbreaking loss and great love. But through it all she was always memorable.
In his forward to her biography, Infinite Variety, Quentin Crisp said of the Marchesa Casati, “She wasn’t beautiful- she was spectacular. Here was a woman possessing a presence one would never forget.”