February 15th is the 68th birthday of a major Valentino muse. Vittoria Marisa Schiaparelli Berenson was destined to be otherworldly: Her maternal grandparents were Wilhelm de Wendt de Kerlor, a theosophist and psychic medium, and Elsa Schiaparelli, the Dadaist fashion designer. And indeed, Marisa Berenson, as she is commonly known-- has always seemed channel supernatural forces through her lithe, aristocratic beauty. In the mid-1960s, she emerged as one of the era’s great faces, modeling for legendary photographers such as Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, David Bailey and Helmut Newton and appearing in innumerable magazines. She was a particular favorite at the American edition of Vogue, and is featured in one of the magazine’s classic editorials. Together with Benedetta Barzini, she was shot by Henry Clarke at Cy Twombly’s Roman residence, wearing all-Valentino looks from the Haute Couture Spring/Summer 1968 collection.
By the time of that Clarke shoot, Berenson was already a friend of Maison Valentino. A year earlier, for instance, she’d been photographed relaxing in Capri with Mr. Valentino and Mr. Giammetti. And the friendship continued: Berenson wore Valentino Couture when she wed James Randall in 1976, she wore pieces from the ready-to-wear Fall/Winter 1990/1991 collection when she came out celebrate the opening of the Valentino flagship store in Beverly Hills in 1990, and she grabbed a dress from the Haute Couture Fall/Winter 1997/1998 archive as she toasted Valentino’s 40th anniversary in Los Angeles in 2000. In the intervening years, she became the “girl of seventies,” as Yves Saint Laurent dubbed her, and appeared in iconic films such as Visconti’s Death in Venice, Bob Fosse’s Cabaret, and Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. In 2011, Berenson published A Life in Pictures, a visual autobiography, and in an interview with Tom Ford for Interview magazine that year, she remarked on her deep respect and affection for Valentino and his designs. She told Ford, he was the most “extraordinary” designer, “whose clothes I love to wear.” She still wears them well.