Sunday, 4 December 2016


With Ruth Woldeselasie of UrbanRootsEco at the House of Lords

The women of the world today all dress alike. They are like so many loaves of bread. To be beautiful one must be unhurried. Personality is needed. There is too much sameness. The world seems to have only a desire for more of this sameness. To be different is to be alone. I do not like what is average. So I am alone. 
Luisa Casati Stampa

I have been busy putting together my talk for 6th December, when I will don once again my academic hat and do a seminar presentation at SOAS, University of London, where I hold a non-teaching position as Research Associate of the Centre for Media Studies (everyone is welcome, by the way, details in the link above). I will be discussing my research on fashion in Indonesia, where I was last year for three months, and in particular, I will talk about fashion presentation, through shows and installations. I am a member of the NWFashion Conference forum which brings together scholars and professionals with the aim of exploring a wide variety of fashion systems throughout the world. It is important, I think, not to fall into the trap of believing that fashion is only relevant to the Western world and that there is no creative talent beyond the major fashion capitals (London, Paris, New York and Milan). It is also because of this commitment to divesting fashion of ethnocentrism that as a model I participate in shows and events which promote 'ethnic' designers, such as UrbanRootsEco, founded by Ethiopian  designer and former model Ruth Woldeselasie and represented by London Ethnic.  It is actually less than two weeks since I participated in the Fashion and Politics event organised by London Ethnic at the House of Lords, in Westmister and where I walked for UrbanRootsEco.

Fashion show at House of Lords, London Ethnic

I have a lot of material from the time I was in Jakarta but ahead of Tuesday I needed to check information and find out about further developments. A year in fashion is a long time!
And so it was that I discovered that designer Sebastian Gunawan, in tandem with his Italian designer wife Cristina Panarese, presented last week a 91 pieces couture collection for spring/summer 2017 (Gunawan does very limited ready-to-wear and was crowned Asian couturier in 2015).
The collection bore the title 'La Divina Marchesa' (amusingly translated by the JakartaGlobe as the Diving Marquise. Wrong gender and wrong meaning for 'divina' which is 'divine' in English but I do think that actually she did have a 'diving' approach to life). I am talking about Luisa Casati Stampa, an Italian marchioness who turned  herself and her life into a work of art, muse to Salvador Dali, patron of the Ballet Russes and a whole host of artists,  close friend of designers such as Poiret, whose clothes she wore.  She was photographed by Adolph de Meyer and lived in Venice in a palace later acquired by Peggy Guggenheim and which currently houses the Guggenheim collection.  Luisa Casati was immensely wealthy, one of the richest women in Europe at the start of the 20th century but she squandered her wealth to support her lavish lifestyle and to give generously as a patron   - it is said she had debts of US $25 million when she died a pauper in London in 1957.  She is buried at the Brompton cemetery, I will go and visit her grave one of these days.

A portrait of Marchesa Casati by Jean de Gaigneron  Photo: COLLEZIONE LUCILE AUDOUY

Luisa Casati was indeed most eccentric. Unusually tall and 'cadaverously' thin, always with heavily kohled eyes, she definitely stood out. She also had cheetah on a leash as pets and wore a live snake as a necklace, so there was no chance of not noticing her! Her clothes were magnificent and beautifully styled by herself, for she was the one that added the finishing touches to her mise.  She also had a penchant for nudity and would often disrobe or walk around wearing only a fur coat. She loved men and also women, a true free spirit.
Gunawan, like other designers before him, such as John Galliano  in 1998, Tom Ford in 2004 and Karl Lagerfeld in 2010, to name only the most recent ones,  were all enticed by this incredible woman, who continues to be a muse beyond the grave. That is not to say that Gunawan copied anyone. His collection is stunning, with delicate lace and beautiful silks. The clothes are well structured and are accompanied by jewellery designed by the inimitable Rinaldy Yunardi.
But it is not Gunawan's collection I wish to discuss here - you can see a video  of his collection and read about it in the JakartaGlobe.

As I was reading up about Luisa Casati I came across a wonderful word which is not used much. This is 'quaintrelle', the female couterpart of 'dandy' but, as a quick Google search yielded, a lot more. A quaintrelle is 
"a woman who emphasises a life of passion expressed through personal style, leisurely pastimes, charm, and cultivation of life’s pleasures."
I could live with that, in fact I can be that.
Luisa Casati,  you are my spiritual mother! And though I may not walk about with a snake coiled around my neck, I have held snakes and found them quite enticing, only a little cold at the touch.

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