Lizzie Varda


"Through the Eyes of a Countess"

Inspired by the enigmatic Countess Virginia Oldoini of Castiglione, transcends mere fashion or artistry—it delves deep into the very essence of identity and self-expression. In a society entrenched in rigid gender roles and suffocating expectations, Countess Oldini dared to shatter the confines of conventionality. She didn't merely exist within the frames of her countless portraits; she inhabited them, sculpting her image with the meticulous precision of an artist and the unyielding confidence of a trailblazer.
In my designs, I explore her various personas, from youthful innocence to the veiled mystery of her later years, echoing her manipulation of societal perceptions through fashion. Drawing from historical elements like elaborate skirts and lace, I reimagine them in modern silhouettes, reflecting the countess's enduring allure and the power of self-expression through attire. Through this collection, I aim to honor her legacy and interrogate notions of beauty, confidence, and self-worth in a contemporary context.
Image: Introducing the "Camille of Cavour Dress," an embodiment of the innocence and purity associated with young women before their introduction to the grandeur of the French court. Inspired by the early days of Virginia Oldini's journey, wherein she was dispatched to France under the guidance of her cousin, the Count of Cavour, with a mission to captivate and allure Napoleon III.
Image: A blue open back dress with hand-painted and beading trim with lace accents
Image: The "Uplift Dress" draws inspiration from a particular genre of photography favored by the Countess, wherein she artfully obscured her visage, instead focusing attention on her graceful feet and ankles. These scandalously veiled portraits, captured with an audacious flair, epitomized her penchant for subversion within the bounds of societal norms.
Image: The top is hand-painted taffeta with black lace accents, the pants are asymmetrical with ruffle hem
Image: Presenting the "Comtesse Cape Ensemble," a fusion of timeless allure and modern sophistication, seamlessly blending elements of 1850s ballgown opulence with contemporary sensibilities. Inspired by the Countess's penchant for extravagant soirées and grand balls, where she graced the halls in elaborate gowns, each meticulously captured for posterity through the lens of photography.
Image: The top is an off-the-shoulder cape with a front cut out with a waist strap decorated with buttons, the skirt is asymmetrical with ruffles dropped and hand sewn onto the skirt
Image: Introducing the "Low Heart Gown," symbolizing the twilight of the Countess's tenure at court—a period marked by intrigue and confrontation. Among the storied encounters of this era stands a notable confrontation between the Countess and Empress Eugénie de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III. Clad in yet another scandalously daring ensemble, the Countess found herself at odds with the Empress, who famously remarked, "The heart is a little low, Countess."
Image: High neck lace dresses lined in a nude mesh with gem buttons down the back with a hand-painted panel inspired by a famous photography of the countess's eye
Image: Presenting the poignant "Veiled Widow Ensemble," encapsulating the denouement of Virginia Oldoini, the Countess of Castiglione's life—a period marked by introspection and withdrawal from the limelight. In the twilight of her years, feeling the fading allure of her beauty, she sought solace in seclusion, shrouding herself from both her reflection and the prying eyes of the world. This ensemble, with its veiled hood and voluminous skirt, serves as a somber reflection of her retreat, yet retains echoes of her former allure through a subtly revealing cropped jacket—a testament to her enduring allure even in the face of encroaching obscurity.
Image: a hand painted taffeta cropped jacket with three organza veils with a drop waist skirt
Image: "Through the Eyes of a Countess" designed by Lizzie Varda


Lizzie Varda is a womenswear and award-winning costume designer from a small town in Connecticut and is now based in NYC since moving to attend Parsons School of Fashion. Raised by a museum curator with a deep appreciation for history and art, and nurtured by her involvement in theater during her formative years, Lizzie's artistic sensibilities were honed from an early age. With a skill set extending beyond mere design, Lizzie is skilled in illustration, embroidery, applique, and embellishment skills, further enriching her creative repertoire. This along with her upbringing continues to serve as the basis of her creative vision, infusing her designs with a profound sense of narrative and heritage.

Her profound love for history and art is palpable in her work, as she intricately weaves together threads of the past with her avant-garde interpretations. Each garment is a testament to her meticulous research and unwavering commitment to understanding the nuances of bygone eras, all the while reimagining them through a contemporary lens.

You can contact Lizzie Varda via email or Instagram

Designer: Lizzie Varda

Photographer: Skyler Jones

Models: Camille Vail and Alexandra Squillace

Composer: Elizabeth Flaherty

Special thanks to:

Kathleen Craughwell-Varda

John Varda

The Metropolitan Museum of Art photo department