Oleg Cassini - Fashion Designer Encyclopedia



American designer

Born: Oleg Loiewski in Paris of Russian parents, 11 April 1913. Raised in Florence; adopted mother's family name, Cassini, 1937. Immigrated to the U.S., 1936, naturalized, 1942. Education: Attended

Oleg Cassini, 1958 couture collection of the New York Dress Institute: crêpe sheath cocktail dress with a deep V decolletage in chiffon over chiffon. © Bettmann/CORBIS.
Oleg Cassini, 1958 couture collection of the New York Dress Institute: crêpe sheath cocktail dress with a deep V decolletage in chiffon over chiffon.
© Bettmann/CORBIS.
English Catholic School, Florence; studied at Accademia delle Belle Arti, Florence, 1931-34; political science, University of Florence, 1932-34. Military Service: Served five years with U.S. Army Cavalry during World War II. Family: Married Merry Fahrney, 1938 (divorced); married actress Gene Tierney, 1941 (divorced, 1952); daughters: Daria, Christina. Career: After working in his mother's Maison de Couture in Florence, opened his own Maison de Couture, Rome; sketch artist, Patou, Paris, 1935; design assistant to couturier Jo Copeland, New York, 1936; designer, William Bass, 1937, and James Rotherberg Inc., New York, 1938-39; New York salon, Oleg Inc., established, 1937-39; owner of Cassini fashion studio, New York, 1939-40; designer, Paramount Pictures, Los Angeles, 1939-42; designer under contract with Twentieth Century Fox, Los Angeles, 1940; owner, Cassini Dardick fashion firm, New York, 1947-50: established Oleg Cassini Inc., New York, 1950; appointed official designer to U.S. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, early 1960s; established ready-to-wear business, Milan, 1963; returned to New York, designed tennis clothes for Munsingwear and swimwear for Waterclothes under own label, 1974; introduced new fragrance line, Cassini, 1990; inked deal with Cascade International to develop specialty stores, 1991; launched fake fur collection, 1999. Exhibitions: Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years (featuring many of Cassini's designs), 2001. Awards: Numerous awards, including five first prizes, Mostra della Moda, Turin, 1934; Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts, International College of Fine Arts, Miami, 1989; American Society of Perfumers Living Legend award, 2001.

Publications

By CASSINI:

Books

Pay the Price, New York, 1983.

In My Own Fashion, New York, 1987, 1990.

One Thousand Days of Magic, New York, 1995.

On CASSINI:

Books

Bender, Marylin, The Beautiful People, New York, 1967.

Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style, New York, 1989.

Leese, Elizabeth, Costume Design in the Movies, New York, 1991.

Articles

"Oleg Cassini," in Current Biography, July 1961.

"Oleg Cassini, un couturier collectionneur de femmes," in Elle (Paris), 25 October 1987.

Tedeschi, Mark, "Cassini's Career—Straight Out of a Hemingway Novel," in Footwear News, 17 December 1990.

Buck, Geneviéve, "You're Not Excused if You Sniff at the Idea of Mixing Fragrances and Fashion," in the Chicago Tribune, 19 December 1990.

"Cassini to Design for Cascade," in the South Florida Business Journal, 17 June 1991.

"Oleg Cassini Comes to Town," in Clothes Show (London), December 1991.

Oleg Cassini with his wife, actress Gene Tierney, who is modeling one of his designs, 1941. © Bettmann/CORBIS.
Oleg Cassini with his wife, actress Gene Tierney, who is modeling one of his designs, 1941.
© Bettmann/CORBIS.

"The Charm of First Lady's Man Oleg Cassini Shines On," in Vogue (London), December 1991.

Witchell, Alex, "A Lifetime's Pursuit of Glamour, Grandeur and Women's Trust," in the New York Times, 16 November 1995.

"Oleg Cassini Bailout Plan Falls Through," in Women's Wear Daily, 22 July 1997.

Maxwell, Alison, "Oleg Cassini Launches Fake-Fur Line," in Women's Wear Daily, 9 November 1999.

Horyn, Cathy, "Fashion's Gadfly Tangos With A Legend," in the New York Times, 15 April 2001.

***

Oleg Cassini has had an extremely varied, glamorous, and exotic career but is perhaps best known for the personal style and clothing he developed when official designer for First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961. He worked closely with Mrs. Kennedy, a personal friend, and together they created many widely copied garments that became American fashion classics and firmly established Kennedy as a style leader.

The First Lady frequently wore a fawn wool two-piece outfit, a dress and a waist-length semifitted jacket or coat with a removable round neck collar of Russian sable, often topped by the famous pillbox hats created by Halston. Another popular outfit was a high-necked silk ottoman empire-line evening gown that gently flared in an A-line to the floor. Jacqueline Kennedy's vast public exposure proved a huge boost for Cassini's profile and brought worldwide attention to American fashion in general.

Cassini was born a count and was brought up by Italian/Russian parents in Florence, where his mother ran an exclusive dress shop. He began his career in 1934 by making small one-off designs sold through his mother's shop. He moved to New York in 1936 and worked for several Seventh Avenue manufacturers before joining Twentieth-Century Fox in Hollywood as a costume designer in 1940. He worked for several major film studios and created glamorous clothes for many film stars—eventually marrying one, Gene Tierney— against studio wishes.

In 1950 the designer opened Oleg Cassini Inc., his ready-to-wear dress firm in New York, with $100,000-worth of backing. Femininity quickly became the keyword in describing his work; he produced dresses made from soft, romantic fabrics like lace, taffeta, and chiffon. He popularized ladylike fashion innovations, such as the A-line, the smart little white-collared dress, the sheath, the knitted suit, and dresses with minute waistlines. Military details such as brass buttons and braid were also popular features. In the 1960s the Cassini look evolved to incorporate ease and simplicity. The straight, lined cocktail and evening dresses popularized by Jackie Kennedy were customer favorites, as were his plain, boxy jacket suits.

Retiring from his ready-to-wear and couture business in 1963, Cassini's next venture was a ready-to-wear business in partnership with his brother Igor. He presented a menswear collection for the first time, breaking tradition by introducing color to shirts that had always been white, and teaming them with traditional three-piece suits.

An author of several books, beginning with his autobiography In My Own Fashion back in 1987, Cassini published One Thousand Days of Magic in 1995 about his experiences dressing Jackie Kennedy during her White House years. The 217-page book sold well and Cassini toured the country making appearances in its behalf. Yet he was still equally active in fashion; in 1997 Cassini and an investment group prepared to acquire He-Ro Group Ltd., producer of the designer's Black Tie eveningwear collections. The new company was to be renamed Oleg Cassini Group International, but the deal fell through after the sudden death of a He-Ro chairman, William J. Carone. He-Ro was then bought and merged with Nah Nah Collections to form the Nahdree Group, and subsequently cut ties with Cassini.

The veteran designer bounced back in 1999 with a fake-fur collection, launched at a fundraiser for the Humane Society of America. Working with Monterey Fashions to produce the 100-piece faux fur line, Cassini commented to Women's Wear Daily in November 1999, "You won't be able to distinguish between the real and man-made."

At the turn of the century, Cassini was entering his 90s and still a man about town. He ran an extensive empire, exporting to over 20 countries through an ever expanding number of licensing agreements. The company produced womenwear, menswear, children's clothing, and innumerable accessories including ties, luggage, cosmetics, shoes, umbrellas, and fragrances.

In 2001, six years after the publication of Cassini's One Thousand Days of Magic and 40 years after he began designing for Jackie Kennedy, the Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted an exhibition called "Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years." The exhibit featured many of the designer's famed creations for the First Lady, and brought the Cassini name to the forefront of the industry once more.

—KevinAlmond;

updated by NellyRhodes

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