musing about marisa berenson

January 14, 2017 in stop look & listen by editor

Marisa Berenson has been photographed for almost every major fashion magazine that has ever existed. In fact, she was practically born on the pages of Vogue, her baptismal photograph published in 1947. Why the fuss? Born Vittoria Marisa Schiaparelli Berenson, she was daughter of an American diplomat and Italian socialite, and her grandmother was the legendary surrealist designer, Elsa Schiaparelli (it was Elsa who was holding Marisa in that baptism photo). Marisa’s first cover came at the ripe old age of five, wearing matching Schiaparelli coats with sister, Berry for French Elle. By age 16, Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, a family friend, reintroduced Marisa to the glossy pages, where her big green eyes and limber frame made her one of the top models of the new fashion royalty.

But while her path to fashion seemed predestined, according to Marisa, her grandmother didn’t want her to go there, citing ‘I guess she wanted me to marry and have a normal lifestyle.’ However, fashion she did go, and along with it, the jet-setter life you would imagine for one of the most sought-after faces of the 60s and 70s. She broke into film in 1971 when Luchino Visconti cast her as Frau von Aschenbach in Death in Venice. Next came Cabaret (1972) followed by Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975). Marisa became a staple of the 70s party scenes, flying between New York and Paris, dancing at Studio 54 and Le Sept, dating famous men (Sam Shepherd, Helmut Berger), and stepping out with Andy Warhol. Marisa’s personal style was splashed across society pages, a free-spirited mix of designer pieces made by friends like Halston and Yves Saint Laurent and flea market finds from around the world. And she knew how to accessorize — piles of necklaces, bracelets up to her elbows, big floppy hats, and brightly-colored turbans, which she learned how to wrap on a work-trip India. But her grandmother was not so keen on her wardrobe, either. ‘I lived with her during the ’70s, and I would be flying out the door in miniskirts and shorts, boho chic with frizzy hair—just tons of mad outfits — and she didn’t think it was elegant at all. She’d say, “You’re not going out in the street looking like that.”‘ Nevertheless, she was beloved by the fashion community, dubbed ‘the girl of the 1970s’ by none other than YSL himself.

Today, Marisa continues to do films, mostly in Europe, and lives between Paris and Marrakech. In 2015, she added beauty entrepreneur to her list of titles with holistic skincare line Marisa Berenson Beauty. Every so often will show up on fashion week runways, like she’s done for Alberta Feretti and Tom Ford. And whenever fashion is having a 70s moment (and really, when is it not?) you can bet designers have Marisa’s photos plastered all over their studios as the #1 source of inspiration.



Shine on. Photo by Bert Stern (1966)


Left: On the isle of Capri in 1968, by Slim Aarons and, right, all dolled up for Gianni Penati (Vogue, 1967)


Both by Irving Penn, from 1969 (left) and 1968 (right).


Walking the dog. Photo by Arnaud de Rosnay (1968).


1970: Comon’, Vogue, by Irving Penn (left) and Bert Stern (right).


Gimme a head with hair! From 1970, shot by sister Berry Berenson, and in Venice, 1972 (Granger)


Polaroid by Andy Warhol and with the man himself at Studio 54, on the arm of Rikky Von Open (Ron Galella)


Shot by Robert Mapplethorpe (1983) and with Steven Meisel (mid-90s)


In her Paris home in 2015 (by Katja Rahlwes for Vogue)



Top photo Getty, 1972