weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Liberace, ‘Casino’ fur designer Anna Nateece dies at 84

Anna Nateece, who cloaked Liberace in his famous furs and was among the leading designers of the 20th century, has died. Nateece passed away Jan. 16 in Las Vegas at age 84.

Nateece died in her sleep from natural causes. Her family was at her bedside.

Along with her long partnership and friendship with Liberace, Nateece designed for Sharon Stone in “Casino,” and also for Liza Minnelli, Mike Tyson, Dionne Warwick and a host of other Vegas entertainers and dignitaries.

Stone wore Nateece designs in “Casino,” playing the character based on real Las Vegan Geri Rosenthal, wife of Lefty Rosenthal, for whom Anna also designed furs. In the film, Stone’s Ginger McKenna flees her mansion and her husband, Sam “Ace” Rothstein (played by Robert DeNiro), then asks a friend to retrieve her furs.

Nateece said that episode actually happened. She was the person Geri Rosenthal called for the fur run. It was one of the last calls made by Rosenthal, who soon after was found dead of a drug overdose in L.A.

Born in Athens, Greece, in 1937, Nateece’s career took off in 1962 when she won a competition among leading fashion designers. She moved to Boston with her then-husband, Harry Natsis. The couple divorced, and Nateece and her three children moved to Las Vegas in 1970. She met and would marry famed fur purveyor Ray LeNobel, who had recognized Nateece’s natural talent and passion for fashion.

The couple opened fur studios at the Riviera, Dunes and Caesars Palace. She caught the attention of Liberace after the master showman visited her studio in 1974. The two would combine to advance and enliven the wardrobes for entertainers in Las Vegas and worldwide.

Liberace Foundation Chairman Jonathan Warren said of Nateece, “She was my confidant. My mentor. My window to another time, the last voice of Liberace.”

Among Nateece’s best-known furs were the $150,000 black diamond mink cape in 1975, and the shadow fox train coat, the most expensive fur ever made worth $350,000, and the most elaborate of Liberace’s legendary fur collection. Several pieces, including the black diamond mink, will be on display beginning in April at Liberace Garage on 5115 Dean Martin Dr., Unit 905.

After Liberace’s passing in 1987, Nateece became sensitive to the practices of using animal pelts in her work. At the urging of her longtime friend and Las Vegas icon Cindy Doumani (whose family owned the Tropicana from 1975-80), Nateece stopped creating new furs, working only to preserve those already on the market. Prior to her retirement, she had been working on a faux-fur line under her brand.

Nateece’s original designs endure. Her azure mink cape, created for Liberace in 1978, was requested by the New York Met for exhibit at the 2019 Met Gala, to which many stars wore costumes in tribute to Nateece’s works for Liberace.

Nateece would go on to design for such entertainment superstars as Warwick, Siegfried and Roy, Minnelli, Cyd Charisse, Naomi Campbell and Tyson. Boxing promoter Don King wore the Nateece designs, as did many of his top fighters, including Tyson and Larry Holmes.

Long-running Vegas headliner Frank Marino has worn Nateece furs throughout his career. He once said, “I have a confession. Whenever I was in her studio, she would let me sneak in to the vault and try on his costumes.”

Nateece served as an ambassador of the Liberace brand and heritage. She was on hand when the Liberace Museum closed in October 2010, and also at the opening of the Liberace exhibit at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas in November 2013, among many other Liberace Foundation events.

Nateece spoke of her late friend, “Mr. Showmanship,” at the closing of the Liberace Museum. She recalled the last time she saw him.

“He looked well in bed,” she said. “His face looked beautiful. … I spoke to him. … By the time I got to the airport in Las Vegas, he was gone. He was the best friend I ever had.”

Nateece is survived by her siblings Dimitrios Kalkantzakos, Eleni Tsitsinakis and John Kalkas of Las Vegas; her children Michael Nateece of Dana Point, Calif.; Danny Nateece Natsis and Stephanie Nateece Natsis of Las Vegas; her grandchildren Brittany Nateece Soroudi and her husband Benjamin Soroudi, Skye Nateece Hosman and Apollo Nateece Natsis; and great-grandchildren Sophia and Wylder Soroudi.

Services are set for 9 a.m. Feb. 4 at Saint John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church. A celebration of life will follow March 4, e-mail jwarren@liberace.org for details. Donations to The Liberace Foundation are requested in lieu of flowers.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.