She was the muse of Chanel, as well as Givenchy and other fashion houses, but without a doubt, her greatest achievement is to prevail as an inspiration for women and fashion equally to this day. Meet Mona von Bismarck and her legacy.
It was 1968, and any man was willing to give her whatever she wanted in exchange. She was considered one of the most elegant women in history, and everybody was turning to look at her. However, Balenciaga, perhaps Mona’s favorite man, not only limited himself to give her a stark look, but after having her as a muse for a long time, he closed the doors of his house arguing that “there was no one to dress anymore,” alluding that Mona has reached a certain age where beauty starts to slow down.
Von Bismarck cried for the contempt of Cristóbal Balenciaga. Perhaps her sadness was increased for not being considered an inspiration anymore, other than for the fact that Balenciaga no longer had her on his list, or because of the designer’s decision to not make more clothes.
Who Was Mona and Why Did the World Keep Talking about Her?
Simple. She was the most important socialité for many years. She was one of the most stylish women the globe had ever seen and was even named the world’s best-dressed woman in 1933. This title was bestowed on her by haute couture designers, including Coco Chanel. This designation was just a cherry on top of the cake that made up her life, because by then, Von Bismarck had a dream lifestyle, and her closet was the best nourished on the planet. But there was a detail: she was American and, at that time, it was almost unthinkable that a woman from Kentucky would receive such an honor.
Still, Mona made it. Her secret was beauty and style. Most people claim that her fortune and power were obtained through marriages, but, in fact, she was a faithful follower of fashion and the crème de la crème of social spheres; she even belonged to a select group of artists along with Truman Capote, Paul Newman or Diana Vreeland, editor of Vogue magazine at that time.
Without a doubt, in such a circle of creatives and couturiers, her favorite brand was Balenciaga, because the designer considered her a muse and, for that, she inspired dresses and footwear for the firm. Their friendship and collaboration were so great that he created a special collection of garments for her only use so that this woman could take care of her garden. She was that sort of exclusive. The same thing happened with Givenchy and Chanel; even Salvador Dalí painted her, and Cecil Beaton hired her as a main model. But what made her so special?
Well: EVERYTHING. She had such a peculiar style that it’s been copied since then. Every one of us, at some point, has made Von Bismarck our own fashion guru, and maybe no one has acknowledged it as it should.
Von Bismarck’s Iconic Style
Balenciaga called it audacious. Chanel named it elegant, while Givenchy rated it as colorful. In fact, they were three of their most important characteristics because, even though she was an institution in the world of fashion, Mona did not pay that much attention to trends. She used to wear what she liked, dressed with the things she wanted, and played with garments to her liking and whim.
In her collection, there was an ensemble of velvet, patterned coats, white dresses, and jackets in true rock ‘n’ roll style, made before the word was even conceived. She was two steps ahead of everyone else.
When she passed in 1983, the world mourned her departure. Men, women, models, designers, photographers, painters, and, of course, the fashion houses that loved her, Balenciaga included. All circuit minds’ said goodbye to the most stylish woman in the world, the one that dressed fashionably for the mere love of clothes, a thing that, without even wanting it, became everyone’s inspiration.
Although Balenciaga stopped considering her a muse as soon as she got older, the rest of the world continued recognizing her greatness, and the illusion with which Von Bismarck lived in beautiful cities such as Paris, New York, and Capri, discovering new stages, new brands, garments, and styles that she did not imitate, but rather appropriated.
That is, probably, the simplest way to copy her style: by creating our own and going ahead of what’s expected from us.
Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva.