Oleg Cassini Loiewski
11 April 1913
|Died||17 March 2006 (aged 92)|
Manhasset, New York, U.S.
Mary "Merry" Fahrney
(m. 1938; div. 1940)
(m. 1941; div. 1953)
Oleg Cassini (11 April 1913 – 17 March 2006) was a fashion designer born to an aristocratic Russian family with maternal Italian ancestry. He came to the United States as a young man after starting as a designer in Rome, and quickly got work with Paramount Pictures. Cassini established his reputation by designing for films.
He became particularly well known as a designer for Jacqueline Kennedy while she was First Lady of the United States. The "Jackie Look" was to become highly influential and much admired. Among Cassini's inspirations were sports and Native American culture.
He was born in Paris as Oleg Aleksandrovich Loiewski, the elder son of Countess Marguerite Cassini and her husband Count Alexander Loiewski, a Russian diplomat, thereby obtaining the title of Count. His maternal grandfather Arthur Paul Nicholas Cassini, Marquis de Capuzzuchi di Bologna, Count Cassini, had been the Russian ambassador to the United States during the administrations of William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Count Arthur Cassini signed the Treaty ending the war between Japan and China. His mother's family claimed Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini as an ancestor. In 1918, the Russian Revolution caused the Loiewski family to flee for their lives, leaving behind their wealth, lands, and homes. As a young child, Oleg saw his cousin shot to death. The family reached Denmark and next moved to Switzerland. The Greek Royal family invited them to Greece, but, while traveling through Italy, revolution began in Greece as well. They got off the train in Florence, eventually settling there. In Italy the children started using the surname of Cassini.
In his early youth, Cassini suffered a major accident, almost losing his leg. He spent much of a year in bed in recovery, during which time he studied history and read extensively, including authors such as American James Fenimore Cooper. He developed a love of history and the mysticism of Native American tribes. He also discovered American culture through the movies from the United States that were shown in Italy.
When he started school, Oleg had to learn Italian, but he already knew Russian, French and Danish. His mother, Marguerite Cassini, founded her fashion house in Florence, gaining American clients from people she knew in Washington, D.C., as the daughter of the Count Arthur Cassini.
Cassini played soccer with the teenage team, the "Boys" of Fiorentina, and was on the university track and ski teams. He also played tennis for the Italian Jr. Davis Cup team, becoming Italian Jr. Champion.
My Preoccupation is to make women look beautiful.
– Time Magazine 2005
Cassini studied Political Science at the University of Florence and became an accomplished equestrian. He studied fine art under painter Giorgio de Chirico at the Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze. Eventually he started in fashion, studying under the French couturier, Jean Patou. Cassini won a number of international fashion competitions in Turin, including five first prizes in Mostra Della Moda for sketches and Most Creative Presentation for an evening dress painted in dramatic colors on silver foil, garnering a prize of 5,000 lire. Cassini opened his own boutique in Rome and designed for the local film industry as well as Roman society.
Move to America
Oleg became engaged to a debutante in Rome, Anna Donnina Toeplitz, and subsequently left for America after winning a duel. He sailed to America on the Saturnia and arrived in New York on Christmas Day 1936. His autobiography describes his possessions upon arrival in America as being limited to a tuxedo, two tennis rackets, a title, and talent. He briefly worked as a political cartoonist in Washington, D.C., upon his arrival prior to traveling to Hollywood.
Upon arriving in California, Cassini began playing tennis at the West Side Tennis Club. After he competed in and won a doubles tournament, his partner introduced himself as the head of Paramount Pictures, saying he was "looking for another designer". Cassini went to the studio the next day and got the job as a full designer for Paramount Pictures. In 1941, his first film was I Wanted Wings, for which he created the look for its star, newcomer Veronica Lake.
Better than most—second to none.
—Oleg Cassini Personal Motto
Cassini designed costumes for films including The Shanghai Gesture (1941), starring Gene Tierney, Tales of Manhattan (1942) for Rita Hayworth, The Razor's Edge (1946), It's a Joke Son! (1947), Born to Speed (1947), Lost Honeymoon (1947), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), That Wonderful Urge (1948), Whirlpool (1949), Night and the City (1950), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), as well as The Mating Season, Close to My Heart, On the Riviera (all 1951), Rampage (1963), The Tammy Grimes Show (1966), The Day Dreamer (1966), Peligro ... ! Mujeres en acción, (1967), The Ambushers (1967) for Dean Martin, SOS Conspiracion Bikini (1967), The Sentinel (2006) for Kim Basinger, and Say It in Russian (2007) for Faye Dunaway.
His designs are worn in the climactic scene of Meet Joe Black (1998) and throughout Ready or Not (2009). He worked for the major film studios and dressed numerous stars over the course of his career including Audrey Hepburn, Shirley Temple, Anita Ekberg, Janet Leigh, Loretta Young, Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Ursula Andress, Jayne Mansfield, Lana Turner, Sandra Dee, Suzy Parker, Gina Lollobrigida, Renée Zellweger, Malin Åkerman, Kim Basinger, Carroll Baker and Taylor Swift.
World War II
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Cassini quickly enlisted in the war effort. Initially, he joined the United States Coast Guard, but he later served in the U.S. Army as a cavalry officer. He reached the rank of 1st Lieutenant. Cassini became a United States citizen (in December 1941/January 1942, losing his titles of nobility); he was commissioned as a First Lieutenant at Fort Riley, Kansas. After serving five years in the U.S. Cavalry, Cassini moved to New York City in 1952 to open his own fashion house on Seventh Avenue, the center of the fashion industry.
New York, New York
After the war, Cassini designed ready-to-wear dresses while continuing to design for television, motion pictures, and Broadway theatre. According to his autobiography, Jack L. Warner offered Cassini the position of head of design for Warner Bros. Studios proclaiming, "You're better than Errol Flynn". He remained in New York rather than work with Warner Brothers and opened his own designer brand. Cassini had enough money to launch one line, his first Collection, which was received with rave reviews.
The head of Lord & Taylor, Dorothy Shaver, provided the Oleg Cassini Collection the entirety of the store's Fifth Avenue store front windows to launch the collection. Cassini also took his designs "on the road" to his customers in trunk shows and special fashion events in order to promote the new lines. The in store events evolved into the emerging medium of television and Cassini displayed his product on Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Dinah Shore, Phil Donahue, and Good Morning America. The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson provided nightly recognition as Carson had a line designed for him by Cassini, which he wore exclusively for the show.
His reputation developed as a result of his genius for original spontaneous design and in 1953, shortly before her marriage to John Kennedy, Cassini met Jacqueline Bouvier, named by his brother, society columnist Cholly Knickerbocker as "Queen Deb of the Year" in 1947.
Secretary of Style to the White House
Oleg, you are, and will be in fashion history, the designer who created the indelible and stylish image for the First Lady. You should be proud of your achievement, you are the designer who inaugurated her style.— Suzy Menkes Fashion Editor; International Herald Tribune, 2003.
I dressed Jackie to be a star in a major film, which she was, the most famous first lady of all time. I became her secretary of style.
—Cassini on Jackie Kennedy
Cassini's appointment by Jacqueline Kennedy as her exclusive couturier in 1961 dubbed him her "Secretary of Style" and provided him a position of prestige. "We are on the threshold of a new American elegance thanks to Mrs. Kennedy's beauty, naturalness, understatement, exposure and symbolism," Cassini said when his selection as the couturier to shape the entire look of the First Lady was announced.
Utilizing the technique and high fashion fabrics of French couture, Cassini's unique designs for Jacqueline Kennedy ushered in a new era of timeless simplicity based on clean lines and crisp forms and opulent and luxurious fabrics. Cassini brought American design to the world stage as the First Lady's identity became synonymous with sophistication and taste. The "Jackie look" that he created was copied by women all over the world. Cassini visualized her as an American Queen and Mrs. Kennedy acknowledged that "Oleg dressed me for the part".
Oleg Cassini's remarkable talent helped Jackie and the New Frontier get off to a magnificent start. Their historic collaboration gave us memorable changes in fashion, and style classics that remain timeless to this day.
—Senator Edward Kennedy on Cassini quote abridged
The publicity Cassini derived from his work for Mrs. Kennedy led women from 18 to 80 to copy the look of simple, geometric dresses in sumptuous fabrics and pillbox hats with an elegant coiffure. Meticulously tailored and featuring oversized buttons and boxy jackets, as well as occasionally dramatic décolletage. Cassini designed a reported 300 outfits for the First Lady, including a much-copied coat made of leopard pelts and a Swiss double satin white gown decorated by a single cocarde which she wore to the Inaugural Gala Ball in 1961. This was Mrs. Kennedy's first official appearance as First Lady Elect. The dress was subsequently named one of the "50 Dresses that Changed the World" by the Design Museum in England.
His name adorned everything from luggage to nail polish, as well as special luxurious coupé versions of the 1974 and 1975 AMC Matador automobile. Outside, striping, rub rails, wheel covers and a crest mark the Matador as Cassini's. He helped promote the car in AMC's advertising. The special Oleg Cassini Matador was positioned in the popular and highly competitive "personal luxury car" market segment. The "distinctive" styling of the Cassini "designer editions" merit collector interest
In 1960, with his younger brother, society columnist Igor, Oleg opened Le Club in Manhattan, which becomes a leading private club with such members as Gianni Agnelli, Stavros Niarchos, Aristotle Onassis, and Ray Stark. In 1960 Oleg Cassini was named personal couturier by Mrs. Kennedy, launching the Jackie look in 1961. He was awarded the Chicago Gold Coast Award for Excellence in Design. In 1962, he was awarded the National Cystic Fibrosis Distinguished Service Citation. In 1967, he created deep tonal shirts for men adding special colors where there had only been white. The sales of dress shirts rose dramatically, and the look was launched on The Tonight Show, Starring Johnny Carson. Oleg created the "Johnny Carson" line of Men's wear. In 1968, the Peacock Revolution is hailed by Newsweek, wherein Cassini is credited with leading a revolution in men's fashion worldwide. The "Competitors" Collection menswear campaign was also launched by Cassini. It featured icons of sport wearing Cassini including: Ted Turner for sailing, Bob Hope and Raymond Floyd for golf, Michael Jordan for basketball, Mario Andretti for racing, Gary Carter for baseball, Lynn Swann and Lawrence Taylor for football and Charlton Heston, Regis Philbin, and Kenny Rogers for tennis.
In 2003 The Council of Fashion Designers of America Board of Directors noted Cassini's extraordinary design achievements with their first ever, Board of Directors Special Tribute. The presentation was made to Oleg by President Stan Herman and Diane von Furstenberg.
I am addicted to the habit of winning. If I am going to compete, I want to win, no point in being there for the walk.
—Cassini quoted on sports.
In 2003, Cassini was crowned King of the Beaux Arts Ball.
Oleg Cassini excelled at tennis and competed seriously since his early days as a ranked Italian Junior Davis Cup player. His skill at tennis led to a fortuitous design connection. Recounted in his autobiography, newly arrived in Hollywood, Cassini played tennis at the prestigious West Side Tennis Club which led to a doubles game with the head of Paramount Pictures. Decades later, Cassini also created collections of printed and multi color tennis wear, bringing 'color to the court'. He is noted for having outfitted the US Davis Cup team and for participating in celebrity pro-am tournaments such as the Alan King Tournament in Las Vegas. Cassini also participated and won the 5th Annual RFK Pro Celebrity Tennis Tournament in 1976. The silver winner's cup was presented to him personally by Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
Cassini competed professionally in the sport of harness racing. In 1985 he earned a professional harness racer license and won races at the Meadowlands Raceway, Yonkers Raceway, Freehold Raceway, Monticello Raceway, and Roosevelt Raceway. He received awards in recognition of his efforts to support equine charities from "HORSE" and "The Equine Society" which recognized Cassini with its Man of the year award. He participated in golfing events, scoring three holes in one at the Deepdale Golf Club and one hole in one at the Westhampton Golf Club. Cassini also participated in the ABC TV Superstars Competition.
Oleg Cassini received the James Herriot Award (All Creatures Great and Small) as the Man of the Year from the Humane Society of the United States for his work and care for animals. He created collections of manmade fashion fur, the 'evolutionary furs'.
In 1999, he was awarded the Humanitarian Award at a fashion show and Gala at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, honorary chairpersons Eunice Shriver and Senator Ted Kennedy, show hosted by Montel Williams. Among the 40 models were movie star Tippi Hedren. In his own words "What we're designing is as elegant and attractive as fur and eliminates the enormous cruelty that goes on in the killing of animals for fur."
In his autobiography Cassini claims to have suggested to President Kennedy that he take steps to organize The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the action which led to the American Indian Movement. Cassini was named an honorary member of the Chickasaw and Navajo nations in 1981 due to his fund raising and organization of gala charity events for the tribes. Cassini and his brother, Igor under the pen name of society columnist Cholly Knickerbocker, threw "The Knickerbocker Charity Balls" to raise money for the tribes.
Books and television
An author of best-selling books, In My Own Fashion, A Thousand Days of Magic: Dressing Jacqueline Kennedy for the White House a book which is a tribute to Jacqueline Kennedy and reflects the "Camelot Era" and the "Jackie Look", and Oleg Cassini: The Wedding Dress. Cassini appeared on hundreds of television shows worldwide in many languages and also hosted a special 13-part TV series, Conversations with Cassini, on the Arts & Entertainment Network.
On September 2, 1938, in Elkton, Maryland, Cassini became the husband of Mary "Merry" Fahrney (1910-1974). The couple divorced in 1940. Cassini married actress Gene Tierney, on June 2, 1941. Their daughter, Antoinette Daria, was born on 15 October 1943 blind, deaf and with severe brain damage. She died on 11 September 2010. Their second daughter, Christina, was born in 1948 and died in 2015. The couple separated on 20 October 1946, and entered into a property settlement agreement on 10 November 1946 in which Cassini's fifty percent share of the marital estate was dedicated to the ongoing care of Daria. Tierney won an uncontested divorce in California on 13 March 1947, and the divorce would have been finalized one year later, on 13 March 1948. However, according to Cassini's diary, they reconciled some months before that. They announced that they were back together in April 1948. Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper reported the news in the Los Angeles Times on 9 April 1948. They finally divorced in 1953. Christina "Tina" was born on 19 November 1948.
After his divorce from Gene Tierney, Cassini dated and was engaged to Grace Kelly. Susanna Moore claims that she was raped by Cassini. He and Tierney remained cordial until her 1991 death, when she bequeathed one dollar to their daughter Daria and the residual to Christina. In 1971, Cassini married model Marianne Nestor. Beginning in 1971, Marianne operated the licensing and public relations portion of the brand, which they famously defended. Their marriage was kept secret until after his death; Marianne and his daughter Tina engaged in a bitter court battle over the estate. The status of that struggle was updated in an article in Vanity Fair in 2010. Christina died in 2015. A piece in Newsday, updated in September 2018, updated the history of the legal battle; at the time Marianne was in jail for refusing to comply with a court order. Cassini's estate was auctioned by Doyle in June 2019.
- Sheinman, Mort (20 March 2006). "Oleg Cassini: Iconic and Enduring" (PDF). Women's Wear Daily: 6–8. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
- Cassini, Oleg (2011). The Wedding Dress. Rizzoli. ISBN 978-0-8478-3280-4.
- Loiewski, Alexander. "Count". mykindred.com. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
- Cassini, Oleg (1987). In my Own Fashion. Simon & Schuster. p. 379. ISBN 0-671-62640-X.
- Logan, Walter (21 December 1970). "Johnny Carson Stylish Tycoon". Schenectady Gazette. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
- Cassini, Oleg (1995). A Thousand Days of Magic. Rizzoli. ISBN 0-8478-1900-0.
- Design Museum (2009). 50 Dresses that Changed the World. Conran. p. 112. ISBN 978-1-84091-538-9.
- Cassini, Oleg. "Oleg Cassini profile". Odea Fashion New York. Retrieved 3 February 2012.
- Cassini, Oleg. "Encyclopedia of Britannica". Encyclopedia of Britannica Online Volumes. Retrieved 3 February 2012.
- "Oleg Cassini put his special touch to the newest design in automobiles introduced for 1974". Archived from the original on 24 February 2009. Retrieved 9 February 2015.
- Hartford, Bill (October 1973). "Something ole, something new from AMC!". Popular Mechanics. 140 (4): 114. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
- Peters, Eric (2011). Road Hogs: Detroit's Big, Beautiful Luxury Performance Cars of the 1960s–70s. Motorbooks. pp. 96–99. ISBN 978-0-7603-3764-6. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
- Gunnell, John (2004). Standard Catalog of Thunderbird: 1955–2004. KP Books. p. 110. ISBN 978-0-87349-756-5. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
- Auto Editors of Consumer Guide (17 July 2007). "1974–1978 AMC Matador Coupes". auto.howstuffworks.com. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
- "Tribute to Le Club (Long Closed) – New York City". Restaurant Dining Critiques. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
- "Oleg Cassini His Influence in Fashion". Vintage Avenue. Archived from the original on 20 October 2011. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- "Male Plumage '68". Newsweek. 25 November 1968.
- Daily News Record (14 June 1985). "Cassini clothing to feature 10 celebrities". DNR. Archived from the original on 31 January 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
- "Past Winners of Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards". Council of Fashion Designers of America. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
- Cassini, Oleg (1987). In my Own Fashion. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-62640-X.
- "Royal Family Members". beauxartssociety.org. Archived from the original on 15 December 2013. Retrieved 9 February 2015.
- Dale, Deep. "Farewell Flirt". New York Post. Archived from the original on 10 February 2015. Retrieved 1 March 2012.
- Lenburg, Jeff (2001). Dudley Moore: An Informal Biography. iUniverse. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-595-18268-8. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
- "The James Herriot Award". humanesociety.org. Retrieved 10 February 2015.
- "The Humane Society of the United States". fundinguniverse.com. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
- "The Humane Society of the United States". hennet.org. 31 May 1999. Retrieved 31 January 2012.
- Cassini, Oleg (25 August 1981). "People in the News". Eugene Register Guard. p. 8a. Retrieved 20 February 2012.
- Cassini, Oleg (1995). A Thousand Days of Magic. Rizzoli. p. 224. ISBN 0-8478-1900-0.
- Hedda, Hopper (9 April 1948). "Gene Tierney and Mate Reconciled". Los Angeles Times. p. 2.
- In My Own Fashion, pp. 155–156
- "Cassini Royale". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 28 November 2019.
- Jacobs, Laura (May 2010). "Grace Kelly's Forever Look". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
- Moore, Susanna (14 April 2020). Miss aluminum : a memoir (First ed.). New York. ISBN 978-0-374-27971-4. OCLC 1102184032.
- Tierney, Gene. "Will of Gene Tierney". Harris County Public Records. Harris County Public Records. Retrieved 20 February 2012.
- Johnson, Richard. "Oleg Cassini's widow removed as his estate's executor". Page Six. Retrieved 11 January 2017.
- "Cassini Royale". Vanity Fair. August 2010. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
- "Christina Cassini Obituary". The New York Times. 5 April 2015. Retrieved 14 October 2021 – via Legacy.
- Murphy, Bridget (8 September 2018). "Oleg Cassini's widow defies court order, sits in Nassau jail". Newsday. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
- "The Estate of Oleg Cassini". Doyle. 27 June 2019. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
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