Tuesday, March 23, 2010
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I was quite taken with the photo above of Marella Agnelli shot by Mary Hilliard at Malcolm Forbes' 70th birthday party in Morocco in 1989. More pictures from the party were recently featured on my friend David Patrick Columbia's New York Social Diary.com which you can see here and here.
You know of course that Marella was married to Gianni Agnelli who was the chairman of Fiat, and as such oversaw 4.4% of Italy's gross national product and 3.1% of its work force. The cultivated man, regarded by many as the "king of Italy," died in 2003. His wife Marella has long been renowned for her great style and taste, which is on display in the photo above.
At the Malcolm Forbes birthday party, which was a major international social event, some guests went all out with big poufy dresses and big poufy hair; a lot of effort is on display. But Marella looks elegant and chic – comfortable in her own skin.
The basis of her outfit is her fantastic jewelry. The necklaces and earrings look as though they are rubies and emeralds, reminiscent of the amazing pieces worn by the royalty of India. The colors are like Christmas – joyful and ripe. Marella wears a simple white tunic which offers a blank canvas setting for the jewels. A pink fine woolen wrap that is edged with silk repeats the colors of the rubies, while her small clutch is emerald green. I imagine that she has on some incredible emerald green slipper. The clothes follow the lines of the body and the ease comes from within her. The whole effect is so effortless and timeless but still dazzles the eye.
Here is Marella in the Fifties photographed in a Balenciaga coat. It's the same idea: a simple, chic column of white. In observing the most stylish women of his time, Truman Capote named his favorite "swans" – those who adhere "to some aesthetic system of thought, a code transposed into a self portrait...Mme. Agnelli is the European swan numero uno."
Marella Agnelli was born in 1927 in Florence into an old Neapolitan family. Her father was Filippo Caracciolo, 8th Prince of Castagneto, and her mother was the former Margaret Clarke of Peoria, Illinois. Here is Marella photographed in 1948, age 21.
Marella married Gianni Agnelli in 1953 and though he was a philanderer, they remained married for fifty years until he died in 2003. The couple had two children. Their son the heir Edoardo committed suicide, leaping from a bridge at the age of 36 in 2000. Their daughter Margherita in 2008 launched a legal battle against her mother and family over her share of her inheritance. Margherita is the mother of John and Lapo Elkan (he of the International Best Dressed List) who continue to work for the Agnelli business. Marella, who will be 93 on May 4, lives in the family villa near Turin.
But let's return for a moment to simpler times. This is the iconic photo of Marella taken by Richard Avedon in 1953. It's all vertical up and down lines, almost unworldly. She is a creature beyond fashion and trends, defying gravity to create her own style and her own self.
European Swan Numero Uno indeed.