The anniversary of the great designer Oleg Cassini’s birthday on April 11 has left me wondering: Who exactly was Oleg Cassini? His name sounds mysterious, Italian and suave. In my mind, he is vaguely associated with wedding dresses and Jackie O. … but I also feel like I may be confusing him with someone else, and that Oleg was an oil magnate or some other captain of industry.
If, like me, you need a little refresher on Count Cassini’s major contributions to the world of fashion, read on!
Good old Oleg got his start studying under the great French couturier, Jean Patou. After winning a number of international fashion competitions in Turin, Cassini opened a boutique in Rome, which catered to Roman aristocrats and films that were shot in the city.
Cassini wasn’t just a talented designer. His expertise seems to have extended into the realm of romance. Under very unusual circumstances involving a broken engagement to a debutante and a duel (which he won!), Cassini came to the United States, landing in New York on Christmas Day, 1936. In his autobiography, he said all he had on him when he arrived was “a tuxedo, two tennis rackets, a title (he was a Count) and talent.”
After a brief stint as a political cartoonist on the East Coast, Cassini moved to Hollywood and was grabbed up by Paramount Pictures, where he established a solid reputation for superior costume design in films.
He married American film and stage actress Gene Tierney, who remained his muse for many years.
He was also romantically linked with the stoic Grace Kelly, who often wore his creations.
By the time Jackie Kennedy hit the White House as First Lady, Cassini had become a fashion design icon. She chose him to design her inaugural outfits and just about everything else she wore for the next few years!
Cassini was responsible for designs such as the A-line, sheath and the empire strapless dress, which he perfected during the 1960s and which continue to influence today’s couture.
Cassini’s dramatic designs were worn in the final scene of Meet Joe Black (1998) and throughout Ready or Not (2009), released posthumously after his death in 2006. He dressed many stars during his prolific career, including Betty Grable, Joan Crawford, Natalie Wood, Ursula Andress, Jayne Mansfield, Sandra Dee, Suzy Parker, Gina Lollobrigida, Renée Zellweger, Kim Basinger and Taylor Swift.
So, why have I led you through this? Because, time and time again, I find myself, as a performer, drawn to Oleg Cassini’s designs. While he didn’t expressly design costumes for women, like Bob Mackie, his designs have nevertheless had a big impact on the world of entertainment. They instantly reference an entire era; an era just before women burned their bras and men grew their sideburns long.
I know I seem out of step with the times. I know i should want to perform in a rhinestone studded bathing suit like Beyonce or Katy Perry. But a big part of me wants to glide across the stage in a thick satin gown. I just do.
Please tell me someone out there relates to this aesthetic! I’m not the only one, am I?