Cassini, Oleg

views updated May 08 2018


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 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.




Pay the Price, New York, 1983.

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

One Thousand Days of Magic, New York, 1995.



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.


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

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

Tedeschi, Mark, "Cassini's CareerStraight 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.

"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 theNew 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 starseventually 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.


updated by NellyRhodes

Cassini, Oleg

views updated Jun 11 2018

Oleg Cassini

Born Oleg Cassini Loiewski, April 11, 1913, in Paris, France; died from a cranial blood vessel break, March 17, 2006, in Manhasset, NY. Fashion designer. No other American designer enjoyed a career as long as Oleg Cassini's, which spanned an astonishing 70 years. Nor did any of his fashion-industry peers ever achieve the fame he attained when he created a groundbreakingly stylish official wardrobe for the wife of a president, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, in the early 1960s. Cassini drew upon his time as a movie costumer in Hollywood to help make the immensely popular First Lady a style icon for American women, and worked with one principle in mind: "Do not tamper with the anatomy of a woman's body, do not camouflage it," he was fond of saying, according to his obituary in London's Daily Telegraph.

Cassini was born in Paris in 1913 into a family bearing aristocratic titles on both sides. His mother's Italian family, the Cassinis, had ties to imperial Russia, and Cassini's maternal grandfather had been the Russian ambassador to the United States earlier in the century. His father, Alexander Loiewski, was a Russian diplomat who lost his fortune a few years later when the Loiewski properties were seized in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution. Impoverished, the family dropped the Russian surname and settled in Florence, where Cassini's mother, Marguerite, opened a successful dress business that sold copies of the newest French fashions. It was here that the future designer received his earliest training in the business.

After graduating from Florence's Academia Belle Arte in 1934, Cassini set up his own dressmaking enterprise in Rome before he and his brother, Igor, emigrated to the United States in 1936. Practically penniless when they arrived, they spent a few lean years living in a New York City rooming house and eating hot dogs. Their suave European manners and titled legacy opened doors in high society, however, and in 1938 Cassini wed a cough-syrup-fortune heiress. The union was shortlived, its end well-chronicled in the gossip press, and Cassini headed for Hollywood, where his impressive portfolio of sketches landed him a job as an assistant to famed costume designer Edith Head.

Cassini became an American citizen and served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and spent most of the 1940s dressing his second wife, the film star Gene Tierney, for a slew of hit movies. The marriage produced two daughters, but the first one, Antoinette Daria, was born with severe birth defects in 1943 after a pregnant Tierney was exposed to rubella, or German measles, by a zealous fan. Both parents were devastated by the tragedy, and their marriage suffered for it. Reconciliations were interrupted by periods of infidelity on both sides, and they divorced in 1953, the year their second daughter, Christina, turned five.

Returning to New York City, Cassini launched his own label in 1950, and his stylish, flattering but affordable frocks sold well and established his name as a designer. His reputation as somewhat of an adorable rake continued, and he dated a slew of well-known celebrities and socialites. There were rumors he was engaged to the film star Grace Kelly, but she reportedly ended their romance when she met Prince Rainier of Monaco.

Cassini achieved worldwide fame shortly after John F. Kennedy was elected to the White House in 1960, when Kennedy's young, glamorous wife announced that she had chosen Cassini to serve as her official couturier. The fashion establishment was rather miffed that someone of Cassini's standing—known more as a playboy than a serious designer—was chosen outside of their ranks, but Cassini was socially acquainted with the Kennedy clan and had convinced Jacqueline Kennedy that his Hollywood experience would help him make her a fashion standout as First Lady. He proved correct, for from Inauguration Day 1961 forward, details of her ensembles were breathlessly chronicled by the press and avidly copied by manufacturers. "Cassini from the start produced a wardrobe that was elegant but modern," noted the Times of London, including the one he designed for Kennedy at her husband's swearing-in ceremony.

The Kennedy Administration lasted less than three years, but the 300 outfits that Cassini made for Jacqueline Kennedy set several trends that endured for the entire decade. His style signatures included A-line geometric dresses, pillbox hats, boxy jackets with oversized buttons, and a leopard coat that became a ubiquitous staple for the well-dressed woman. Cassini was also an astute entrepreneur, venturing into menswear and then becoming the first American designer to license his name to other products. "Oleg Cassini" hosiery, handbags, and even bed linens earned him a small fortune.

Cassini worked steadily until his death, even designing a line of dresses for David's Bridal the year before he died. He remained an unrepentant raconteur, and chronicled his fascinating encounters with the equally rich and famous in a 1987 autobiogra-phy, In My Own Fashion. He died on March 17, 2006, in Manhasset, New York, at the age of 92. His third wife, Marianne, told the press that a broken blood vessel in his head was the cause of death. Daughters Daria and Christina also survive him, as do four grandchildren.


Chicago Tribune, March 19, 2006, sec. 4, p. 5; Daily Telegraph (London), March 20, 2006; Los Angeles Times, March 18, 2006, p. B14; New York Times, March 19, 2006, p. A28; April 21, 2006, p. A2; People, March 28, 2006, pp. 129-33; Times (London), March 21, 2006, p. 63; Washington Post, March 19, 2006, p. C7.