Virginia Oldoini: the influencer Countess
This is our first post in a new series on the Duchessa Lia blog. The series is called A Noble Story and is dedicated to sharing the ‘stories of nobility’. These are short stories about the noble spirit of Piedmont and its people who, in the course of their lives, encountered ‘nobility’ in its ideal. The moments when nobility is a fertile relationship between tradition and innovation, between passion and mind; the nobility of aspirations, style and elegance. Each post in the series will be paired with one of our wines, inviting you to rejoice with all the senses.
February is the fashion month. From New York to Paris to Milan, Fashion Week will define the trends and influence what we wear for the next year. It is with this in mind that this post can only be dedicated to Virginia Oldoini, the Countess of Castiglione and the original fashion influencer.
|Reading time: 4 minutes.
Recommended Wine: Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG Galanera. Soft and complex, deep and velvety, in perfect balance between freshness and acidity. Like the story we are telling.
Quella Contessa Castiglione bellissima, di cui si favoleggia - “The beautiful Contessa Castiglione, the fabled”- so the poet, Guido Gozzano, wrote about Virginia Oldioni. “The most beautiful woman in Europe,” and the “goddess of the 19th-century,” was what the magazines wrote about her. Virginia was indeed beautiful. However, the malice of her contemporaries was rarely due to her magnetic charm or beauty, but due to her unbridled passions and ambition. She sought to be legendary, wear the fame of the femme fatale, the eccentric artist, the stylish, the model, the living myth. You can call her the Coco Chanel of the Risorgimento.
Virginia was the daughter of Filippo Oldoini, Marquis of La Spezia and the Florentine Isabella Lamporecchi. She was born in Florence on March 23, 1837. She became the Countess of Castiglione Tinella and Costigliole d’Asti in 1854, when at seventeen, she married Francesco Verasis, a nobleman and cousin of the Count of Cavour. Francesco took the “most beautiful girl” as his wife, knowing full well he would never have her full love or attention. From Liguria to Paris, the Countess used her image to scale the highest social ladders of her time, gaining the favour of the most powerful men and eventually landing her in the court of Emperor Napoleon III, where she bewitched him to cause of Italian unification.
In the present day, the Countess could only be called an influencer. A unique personality with creative ideas and a strong image who defined what style was and was not.
DRESSES AND PHOTOGRAPHY
The principal tools of her fable were fashion and photography, which was just in its infancy. Virginia devoted herself to making daguerreotypes, featuring in or producing over 400 of these early photos in her lifetime.
She passed hours and hours in the most important photography studios of the time, meticulously selecting clothing to wear and posing to perfection. The need for models to pose for at least a quarter of an hour while the photo was being made means that while her poses were typical for the time, the character she brought to them was not. She brought movement, fluidity, and storytelling to these images impressed in metal with the use of crinolines and accessories.
No one was able to imbue so much personality onto their own image the way the Countess could. Mixing the art of makeup and dressing with authoritative and natural poses, accenting classical beauty to the eccentricity of the frame. Not only was a legend born, but an important body of work that influenced future photographers, designers, and society.
The clothes she wore in the photos would be replicated in the Paris boutiques, her poses copied by painters decades later, and the framings of the daguerreotypes were taught to new photographers for time to come. The Countess adored her attention and reputation as an “aesthetic” person, dedicated to the search of style and setting trends.
Not only was a legend born, but an important body of work that influenced future photographers, designers, and society.
An example of her innovation can be seen in the Scherzo di follia, a photograph from 1860. Her pose, her hair, her very pale skin contrasted against the dark dress, the absence of a background, and the focal attention on the enigmatic yet perturbing eye of the Countess in the oval are elements that were featured in artistic movements much later. Baron de Meyer, the Marchesa Casati, Dada, Surrealism, Marina Abramovich: all took elements from the original influencer.
She reached the peak of fashion icon in 1856-1857 and lived the rest of her life in Paris. A frequent guest at masked balls, where the nobility would live out their wildest imaginations, she was a media darling. The Ritrosetta look was her signature – a “crêpe skirt held up by a spectacular knot of black lace and surrounded by real lilacs.” The Countess was so widely celebrated that many ateliers would boast of her as a client and even go so far as ask her to where their colours, transforming the Italian noblewoman into the original influencer.