The memoirs of Oleg Cassini

mack11211

Elite Member
Dear Folks:

Last week, for no particular reason, I read the autobiography of Oleg Cassini.

Cassini had a rich life: he married Gene Tierney, romanced Grace Kelly, and dated countless others. He was in the clothing business for almost 70 years. His highest point was the early 60s, when he designed all of the clothing Jackie Kennedy wore during her White House years. His menswear notes included boldly colored shirts for men and other things that made the sixties the sixties. Now he is known for a lot of mass-market licensed goods.

The memoirs themselves, though probably ghostwritten, are rich in both emotional sensitivity and sartorial detail. Some passages are worth transcribing here.

Cassini himself had an odd face that he grew into. He had broad shoulders and a narrow waist (in his 30s, it was 29 inches, as he notes). Weighed about 160s, and was extremely well tailored throughout his life. The book was published in 1987, when he was over 70, but he lived almost two decades more, passing in 2006, aged 92. He credited his Mediterranean diet and aggressive athleticism with preserving him as well as he was.

Cassini around 1960:



Cassini signing books at Lord & Taylor in the last year of his life:

https://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2006/03/18/fashion/cassini_slide_06b.jpg

FIRST EXCERPT:

Cassini was born in Paris, in 1913.

"My father was employed, at the time, in the pursuit of pleasure; that was his occupation. He was Count Alexander Loiewski, the son of a very successful Russian lawyer who specialized in finding lost heirs to great fortunes. He was short, about five feet eight inches, with handsome, even features that I did not inherit. He spent much of his time either eating or preparing to be fed. He would consult with restaurants about their menus in advance and then loiter three or four hours over a meal, return home for a nap, and awaken in time to eat again.

"His other primary occupation was going to the tailor, an event of the utmost seriousness: fittings might continue for hours. He was quite a dandy and practically lived at Charvet in Paris, where he bought shirts and ties. His shoes were made by Loeb, and his suits by Brandoni of Milan. He owned several hundred shirts, all of them in silk of various colors. Later, in the 1960s, when I created a revolution in men's fashion by reintroducing colored shirts, it was from memories of Father's wardrobe. He would send the shirts, fifty at a time to London for laundering. He also claimed to own 552 ties.

...

"A very fastidious man, a fanatic about hygiene, always formally dressed, even in our most desperate moments of poverty. If he removed his jacket, it was replaced by a silk robe. He was a man of great dignity, even in despair."
 
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uncommonthreads

New Member
Interesting man

We lived down the street from his estate in Oyster Bay. His farm was full of "special needs" animals--blind horses, a pig missing a leg, etc. He was a very generous man and excellent designer.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
Oleg Cassini's memoir sounds like an interesting book to read. Looking at the picture of him in his early 90's, I am struck by the fact he looks better than I do...and I have yet to reach 60. Guess I'd better look into that Mediterranean diet he so enjoyed!
 

Miket61

Elite Member
He was Count Alexander Loiewski, the son of a very successful Russian lawyer who specialized in finding lost heirs to great fortunes.

Apparently the inspiration to the main national industry of Nigeria...

It's good that people appreciate this talented man and his contribution to fashion. A lot of what we remember about Jackie Kennedy was her clothes, from her Paris trip to the pink suit with black trim and pillbox hat she wore to Dallas, to the black suit she wore at the funeral (and the little coat JFK Jr. was in.)
 

mack11211

Elite Member
From the mid twenties through the early thirties, he was in Florence, where his mother established a successful fashion house.

At the start of the decade, Cassini was a young university student who spent most of his time putting the make on American college girls, who were judged superior to the domestic variety.

“In any case, we were convinced that Italian men were better-looking than their female counterparts, although both men and women devoted much time to making themselves more presentable. We dressed impeccably. We talked about fashion continually. To dress well was a ritual and a passion; to dress well was like being in love. We shopped. We spent whole afternoons shopping, but not as it is done today. It was an entirely different sort of experience – Socratic, almost religious, an extended negotiation over the most basic details: fabric, cut, stitching. We were the architects of our experience; we supervised each new suit the way an architect guides the construction of a building. If I was going to have a new pair of shoes made, I would visit Gucci the cobbler – who later achieved international success, but at that time had only a small shop in Florence – and he would produce various leathers for me, which we would consider together. We would then discuss style and construction, for he made the best moccasins in Italy; several weeks later, a finished pair of made-to-order shoes would be delivered. This as also true of Zanobetti, who sold fine Borsalino hats and silk shirts, and Franchi the tailor (I bought two conservatively cut suits a year), and Old England, where we purchased sweaters and tweeds, the only ready-to-wear items we bought. We did nothing in life as well, or as studiously, as we dressed.
“I suppose the reason we went to such lengths to entertain ourselves is that there wasn’t much else to do in Florence…”
 

mack11211

Elite Member
With Cary Grant

In the forties, while Cassini was married to Gene Tierney, he caught the eye of Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, who was also Mrs. Cary Grant. She said she was ready to divorce.

Grant asked to meet him.

“I met with Cary Grant for lunch. He was wearing a blue suit, white shirt, and regimental tie; he was impeccable, as always. I will say that I have met many charming people in my life, people who used their charm in powerful ways (like President Kennedy), people who have been cleverly, diabolically, sensually charming (like Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power). But none was more charming than Cary Grant. He seemed almost a force of nature; it was dazzling. He said, 'Oleg, I understand Barbara thinks the world of you. You know, we are having problems. I hope you don’t have any interest in her personally, because frankly that would be a terrible blow to me. Now, if I can trust you, if I am sure there is no romantic interest there, if I’m convinced you are a friend, I will ask you to do me a favor – intercede on my behalf. Be a peacemaker. Please tell her to be reasonable.'

“Without knowing how or why, I was nodding my head, agreeing to act as a go-between in their marriage. As I said, the man was quite charming.

“ Barbara and I met for tea at her home a day or so later. I told her about my lunch with Cary. ‘He’s an extraordinary man,’ I said. ‘You should give him another chance.’”
 

mack11211

Elite Member
Dining out with Rubirosa

“There was a small Italian restaurant on the West Side of Palm Beach that was very popular in the 1950s. It had a wine celler that was a favorite hideaway of my dear friend Porfirio Rubirosa, who was perhaps the greatest playboy of our time.
Rubi would utilize the cellar in this manner: he might say to his date, ‘I want to see if there is a wine in this place that might be drinkable…my dear, why don’t you come with me?’
And there, amid the musty bottles (and the potential intrusion of the wine steward), he would make his move, and almost invariably succeed.”
 

mack11211

Elite Member
Rubirosa secrets

Cassini knew Rubirosa well, in Palm Beach and Deaville and New York, but especially in Paris, when he was on his last wife, Odile Rodin.

Rubirosa’s motto was “toujours prêt” (always ready).

“Rubi lived like a pasha and had the most incredible schedule. He had trandofmred one of the rooms in this house into a boxing ring., and first thing in the morning, he would go there and par several rounds with a professional boxer. Alfter a shower and breakfast, he might play some polo – he was a low ranked play wer but well mounted – or go shopping with Odile. In the afternoon, his coterie wwould begin to geather; invariably, there were younger men who surrounded Rubi, seeking to learn his secrets or just enjoy his lifestyle. They would arrange the evening’s entertainment for his amusement. Eventually, Rubi would ask, ‘So, what do we do tonight? Let’s do something interesting.’

….

[Dinner, a nightclub, a late night café…]

“We would eat, and have another drink, and talk. Rubi could appear to be entirely saturated with alcohol and still perform socially, and more important to him, sexually. More than one night I said to myself, He’s gone. He’s had enough.

“And Rubi would be saying, ‘No, let’s have one more glass of champagne. The night is young, eh, Oleg? Are you kidding? Que personne ne bouge.’ (‘I don’t want anyone to move.’)

“He would return home until dawn, and then he would sleep the entire next day. That was how he lived: one day off and one day on. It was one of his secrets, a regimen strictly maintained. You could not call Rubi on the day of rest. Everything was dark. No sound; nothing. He relaxed himself totally, preparing for the next performance. I never saw the man tired or haggard.”
 

mack11211

Elite Member
The Rubirosa regimen, continued

There was another, rather exceptional secret about Rubi that directly involved his reputation as a lover, and as a man. He suffered from a rare sexual malaise: priapism. He was in an almost constant state of arousal but unable to be satisfied. He achieved orgasm very rarely, and then only after hours of struggle. It must have been very painful, and frustrating, although it may well have been a product of Rubi’s obsession. He knew that thing of his was a potential meal ticket, and he actually trained to keep it in peak condition. He did exercises. He would drink each day a potion called pago-palo, which he said came from the bark of a certain tree in the Dominican Republic; he believed that it guaranteed performance. He claimed to be able to think himself from semi-tumescence to full sail, and I believe he could. He was very proud of his abilities and endowments and would, at times, perform parlor tricks. He could balance a chair with a telephone book on it atop his erection. ‘It’s a muscle like any other,’ he would say. It can be strengthened.’”
 

rsmeyer

Super Member
There was another, rather exceptional secret about Rubi that directly involved his reputation as a lover, and as a man. He suffered from a rare sexual malaise: priapism. He was in an almost constant state of arousal but unable to be satisfied. He achieved orgasm very rarely, and then only after hours of struggle. It must have been very painful, and frustrating, although it may well have been a product of Rubi’s obsession. He knew that thing of his was a potential meal ticket, and he actually trained to keep it in peak condition. He did exercises. He would drink each day a potion called pago-palo, which he said came from the bark of a certain tree in the Dominican Republic; he believed that it guaranteed performance. He claimed to be able to think himself from semi-tumescence to full sail, and I believe he could. He was very proud of his abilities and endowments and would, at times, perform parlor tricks. He could balance a chair with a telephone book on it atop his erection. ‘It’s a muscle like any other,’ he would say. It can be strengthened.’”
I should be so lucky
 

Concordia

Elite Member
In the forties, while Cassini was married to Gene Tierney, he caught the eye of Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, who was also Mrs. Cary Grant. She said she was ready to divorce.

Grant asked to meet him.

“I met with Cary Grant for lunch. He was wearing a blue suit, white shirt, and regimental tie; he was impeccable, as always. I will say that I have met many charming people in my life, people who used their charm in powerful ways (like President Kennedy), people who have been cleverly, diabolically, sensually charming (like Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power). But none was more charming than Cary Grant. He seemed almost a force of nature; it was dazzling. He said, 'Oleg, I understand Barbara thinks the world of you. You know, we are having problems. I hope you don’t have any interest in her personally, because frankly that would be a terrible blow to me. Now, if I can trust you, if I am sure there is no romantic interest there, if I’m convinced you are a friend, I will ask you to do me a favor – intercede on my behalf. Be a peacemaker. Please tell her to be reasonable.'

“Without knowing how or why, I was nodding my head, agreeing to act as a go-between in their marriage. As I said, the man was quite charming.

“ Barbara and I met for tea at her home a day or so later. I told her about my lunch with Cary. ‘He’s an extraordinary man,’ I said. ‘You should give him another chance.’”

Was this the time that JFK was boning Tierney? Life is so complicated.
 

Concordia

Elite Member
There was another, rather exceptional secret about Rubi that directly involved his reputation as a lover, and as a man. He suffered from a rare sexual malaise: priapism. He was in an almost constant state of arousal but unable to be satisfied. He achieved orgasm very rarely, and then only after hours of struggle. It must have been very painful, and frustrating, although it may well have been a product of Rubi’s obsession. He knew that thing of his was a potential meal ticket, and he actually trained to keep it in peak condition. He did exercises. He would drink each day a potion called pago-palo, which he said came from the bark of a certain tree in the Dominican Republic; he believed that it guaranteed performance. He claimed to be able to think himself from semi-tumescence to full sail, and I believe he could. He was very proud of his abilities and endowments and would, at times, perform parlor tricks. He could balance a chair with a telephone book on it atop his erection. ‘It’s a muscle like any other,’ he would say. It can be strengthened.’”


The important question here-- who was his tailor? And did his trousers favor "natural shoulders?"
 
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