Now & Then: The Fashion Eccentrics

Fashion eccentrics like the late Anna Piaggi flouted the rules of conventional fashion.

“Good taste is the worst vice ever invented,” Dame Edith Sitwell famously declared. We can only wonder what the unconventional poet would’ve made of today’s fashion magazines, and their endless style guides proffering hints, tips, dos, dont’s and – of course – “must-have” buys.

We know that mass-produced fashion is destroying the planet, but it might well be destroying style too. Touted as democratic; what fast fashion has really delivered is so much sameness, it’s stifling.

Our taste for copycat style came into sharp relief earlier this month with the news that Italian fashion editor, Anna Piaggi, had died. The photos that accompanied the style icon’s obituaries showed her talent for unbridled, imaginative outfits but most strikingly, the confidence of an original woman who truly lived the life she envisioned – reminding us just how dreary wanting to look merely “pretty” really is.

So if you’re interested in developing a look beyond the inspiration of fashion magazines and the boring, bland and safe choices of their film star cover girls, take a look at some of fashion’s favorite style anarchists now and then. As the late Alexander McQueen declared, ‘”Fashion needs eccentrics, of course, but so does the world. God, the world would be boring without them.”

Marchesa Casati

Once quoted saying, “I want to be a living work of art,” Luisa, Marquise Casati Stampa di Soncino was an Italian heiress in early 20th century Europe. Known as the first female dandy, she was muse to and patronized some of the biggest artists of her time. Even now her outrageous and flamboyant style still manages to inspire designers to this day, including Lagerfeld, Tom Ford and John Galliano.

Diana Vreeland

Described by her mother as an “ugly little monster,” legendary Vogue editor, Diana Vreeland highlighted her so-called flaws and defined her motto, “elegance is refusal.” Scraping her blue-black hair into a severe knot to spotlight her unconventional profile, her garishly rouged cheeks and scarlet fingernails became her signature. “You gotta have style. It helps you get down the stairs. It helps you get up in the morning. It’s a way of life. Without it, you’re nobody,” she said.

Isabella Blow

Style icon and international magazine editor, Blow was credited for discovering and nurturing fashion talents such as Alexander McQueen, Sophie Dahl, Hussein Chalayan and milliner Philip Treacy. Treacy’s muse, she was rarely photographed without one of his extravagant and flamboyant headpieces. Suffering with depression throughout her life, she tragically committed suicide in 2007.

Anna Piaggi, with milliner Stephen Jones

With a wave of blue hair curled over one eye, vivid lipstick and a bright dash of rouge on each cheek, fashion journalist Anna Piaggi was a front row regular who was said to be “the world’s last great authority on frocks” – of which she owned more than 2,800. London’s V&A Museum dedicated an entire exhibition to her remarkable career in fashion journalism. Muse to milliner Stephen Jones, who released a statement upon her recent death describing Piaggi as “a talisman for all those around the world who believe that fashion is a way of life and that freedom of expression should manifest itself in what we wear.”

Lynn Yaegar

Instantly recognizable by her bright red hair, doll-like face and painted-on cupid-bow lips, Yaegar is a contributing fashion editor and writer to Vogue. She is a former fashion reporter for The Village Voice, having worked for the paper for 30 years. Known for her love of vintage clothing, she is a rare original on today’s style scene.

Daphne Guinness

Heiress of the Guinness family and muse to photographers Steven Klein and David LaChapelle, Daphne Guinness has an intensely cultivated sense of dress and her rejection of style status quo makes her one of today’s most enigmatic style icons. “I truly hate the word [eccentric]…I’m actually very grounded…Also, eccentrics are almost asexual, and that is not something you can say of me, by any means…What drives me now is the idea of something being against the world. I’m an artist, I suppose.”

Rowena Ritchie

Rowena is EcoSalon’s West Coast Fashion Editor and currently resides in San Francisco, CA.