Style Icon: Countess Setsuko Klossowska de Rola

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Wearing fur over her Kimono At the Chanel Haute-Couture Spring / Summer 2012 Show

Countess Setsuko Klossowska is an artist and a writer and has been cultivating her unique sense of timeless chic for decades. Countess Setsuko Klossowska de Rola was born in Tokyo in 1942 into the Ideta family, an ancient Samurai clan originally from Kyoto that is part of the Japanese aristocracy. She has been in charge of the Villa Medici in Rome, she has exhibited her work internationally. She became UNESCO’s Artist For Peace in 2005.

She is the widow of the French artist Count Balthus Klossowska de Rola. She met him while he was visiting Japan for the first time in 1962. He was sent to Japan by André Malraux, then France’s first minister of cultural affairs, to choose traditional Japanese artwork for an exhibition in Paris.

Shortly after their marriage in 1967, they moved to the Italian capital where Balthus became the director of the French Academy in Rome, housed in the 16th-century Villa Medici. In 1977, they settled permanently in Switzerland with their two children in the 18th grand chalet, (a former hotel whose guests included the noted French poet and novelist Victor Hugo). Located in the tiny alpine village of Rossinière, it became the setting for chic dinners and gatherings that included an eclectic roster of international guests such as photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, artist Alberto Giacometti, the Agha Khan, the Dalai Lama and David Bowie. There is a room at the Grand Chalet de Rossinière dedicated to storing Countess Setsuko’s legendary collection of custom kimonos, some of which were recently exhibited in Tokyo. To the untrained eye they may appear traditional, but to those in the

There is a room at the Grand Chalet de Rossinière dedicated to storing Countess Setsuko’s legendary collection of custom kimonos, some of which were recently exhibited in Tokyo. To the untrained eye they may appear traditional, but to those in the know, they are a sartorial fusion of tradition and modernity, East and West, thanks to the Countess’ expert eye. She will often appear at private dinner parties in a ravishing gold brocade kimono, flecked in a deep red that she had matched to her signature nail polish.

Surprisingly, her custom of donning the kimono only began after her marriage to Balthus. Her husband was so enamored by the elegance of the traditional Japanese costume that he asked his wife to wear the kimono without fail every day. “Balthus was surrounded by people who were conscious of the beauty inherent in what they wore, and it was through him that I was able to realize the elegance of Japanese style,” recalled Countess Setsuko, who until their marriage had only worn the kimono on ceremonial occasions, such as the traditional tea ceremony or on New Year’s Day. “I couldn’t even tie the obi belt on my own at first. It would sometimes loosen, making the bow droop down. I made a lot of mistakes,” confided Countess Setsuko, who at 73 continues to wear the kimono even when traveling abroad, whether it is to the Middle East or on a plane bound for New York.

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One thought on “Style Icon: Countess Setsuko Klossowska de Rola

  1. Her husband did a great service to her by requesting that she dress in kimono. She looks so elegant in them.
    I love her choices of kimonos and the colours and accessories that accentuate their beauty.

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