Reading about the great Italian ceramics designer Piero Fornasetti and his series of 350 plates all based on the same beautiful face, I got curious about his inspiration, the legendary beauty and turn-of-the-century Italian opera star Lina Cavalieri (1874-1944). (You can find the article on Fornasetti here.)
Much like the great Polish opera star Ganna Walska, who stars in Encyclopedia of the Exquisite, and who was much married and much maligned, Cavalieri won her fame on the stages of Europe, but had a strange position in society. On the one hand, she was a major celebrity, with newspaper reporters chronicling her every move, on the other hand, she was a questionable company for aristocrats. In London in 1908, a Roman princess stormed out of a party where Cavlieri was the guest of honor, as she “was not accustomed to meet ‘such persons,’” according to the New York Times. “All of Rome knows that La Cavalieri began her career by selling flowers at the doors of theatres and concert halls in Rome,” the paper explained. King Edward, having heard of the incident, declared the Princess’ actions perfectly correct.
Later that year, her career on the wane, she opened a perfume shop, just as Walska did some decades later, using her name to open a perfumery on New York’s Fifth Avenue, promoting all the latest potions from Paris, including Creme a la Cavalieri.