By Suzanne Fox
Christmas, 1936, the day Oleg Cassini arrived in New York was the beginning of a new era in fashion. His arrival was obscure and uncelebrated. His entire worldly possessions consisted of a tuxedo and two tennis rackets. But he carried a title from his heritage as the son of the Russian Count Alexander Loiewski and an immeasurable talent for fashion design from his mother, Marguerite Cassini.
Cassini lived an intriguing life. He would follow his mother’s lead into the fashion industry that gave him a head start on his career as an award winning designer to the rich and famous.
His introduction to stardom began on the tennis court when he played a doubles match with the head of Paramount Pictures, which in turn led to a job offer as a full designer for Paramount movies. Cassini brought color to the Tonight Show when he began dressing Johnny Carson in colored shirts. He designed costumes for stars such as Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Gene Tierney, whom he eventually married.
Contemporary icons such as Renee Zellweger, Kim Basinger and Taylor Swift have worn his latest designs.
One of Cassini’s greatest achievements was his appointment by Jackie Kennedy as her “Secretary of Style.” He created the “Jackie O” look that revolutionized women’s fashions and was copied by women all over the world. He visualized Jackie as an American Queen and she acknowledged that “Oleg dressed me for the part” with geometric dresses, pillbox hats, boxy jackets with oversized buttons and occasionally dramatic gowns.
Cassini designed more than 300 outfits for the First Lady including a Swiss double satin white gown decorated by a single flower appliqué that she wore to the Inaugural Gala Ball in 1961. The dress was subsequently named one of the “50 Dresses that Changed the World” by the Design Museum in England.
Today, Cassini’s designs are carried on through his design house with the same flare of style he used to create the “Jackie O” look. It’s no wonder that Cassini’s 2018 line of gowns sparkle with silver and iridescent stones, as he once won an award, “Most Creative Presentation” for an evening gown painted in dramatic colors on silver foil. His brilliant use of color and texture is what makes his designs so unique. If you have an opportunity to wear an Oleg Cassini gown on your special day, wear it with pride because as Oleg Cassini said, “My preoccupation is to make women look beautiful.”
Cassini received the Humane Society Man of the Year 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 the Fashion Show and Gala in Washington DC. He said, “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.”