Love or hate the fearless style of Daphne Guinness [by the way, "fearless" could translate quite literally when you see the heel-less platforms she deftly balances on]–her individualistic, oft-times extreme, fashion sense has made her an icon in the industry. Avant-garde designers live to dress her, or rather transform her, and fashion spectators anxiously await the latest couture revelation.
All of which make for ideal exhibit subject matter at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where approximately 100 pieces are being shown through January 7, 2012, including accessories from Philip Treacy’s millinery to Shaun Leane’s “armor” jewelry and high fashion arc from demi-couture to haute couture, all dating from 1999-2011. The show, titled Daphne Guinness, is co-curated by Daphne Guinness and Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT, with the assistance of Fred Dennis, senior curator of costume.
Opening reception for the Daphne Guinness exhibit // Photograph by Patrick McMullan
But if your perception is that her sense of style and being a Guinness brewing heiress is Daphne’s raison d’eˆtre, then you may be surprised to find she’s metamorphosed from simply that and is said to be fiercely intelligent. Additionally, the arts have been an inspiration for her lifetime, an influence she’s built on. It’s difficult not to be influenced in some way while growing up Guinness and summering with neighbors Man Ray and Salvador Dalí at Cadaqués, an artists’ colony near Barcelona.
In no particular order, she’s since expressed herself creatively as contributing fashion editor at Tatler magazine; fashion shoot stylist for photogs Steven Klein and David LaChapelle; designer for London’s avant-garde Dover Street Market; creator of the limited edition scent Daphne with Comme des Garçons; producer of an Oscar nominated short film in 2004 called Cashback, directed by Sean Ellis; director of her own short film, Phenomenology of Body, which she followed with another short called Mnemosyne, co-directed by David Parker; star in The Murder of Jean Seberg directed by Joe Lally; and, most recently, star in The Legend of Lady White Snake, directed by Indrani, as a tribute to the late Alexander McQueen.
Dress and hooded coat by Gareth Pugh. From the collection of Daphne Guinness, featured in the exhibition Daphne Guinness. // Photograph courtesy .
Rightly so, her collection is encapsulated in an otherworldly atmosphere. After a descent into the Museum’s basement, then passing through the exhibit double doors, there’s a pressure change, of sorts. Instant silence and significantly cooler thermal insulance arrests the viewer in the dimly lit enclosure. In the distance, above and beyond, a low rumbling signals you’ve touched down on Planet Guinness. Infrequently, barely audible operatic notes delicately journey through the mirror-connected labyrinths. After the initial sensory adjustment, it’s clear every detail was well thought-out in its curation, with Daphne’s clever hand involved in it, no doubt.
Ensembles from the SPARKLE section of the exhibition Daphne Guinness at The Museum at FIT.
Some consider fashion-as-art laughable. But stand just arm’s length away from tailoring created by masters that are equal parts engineering and design of the highest technical skill and it’s easy to be riveted, and even marvel at the artistic talent. It does go beyond that in this exhibit, though. It’s obvious these pieces are more than mere clothing to Daphne; they’re an articulation of who she is–which in itself is an arguable definition of a creative.
Dress by Christian Lacroix, jacket by Alexander McQueen. From the collection of Daphne Guinness, featured in the exhibition Daphne Guinness.
Catsuit of iridescent blue fish scaling with fine spun translucent cape. // Photograph courtesy The Museum at FIT.
Alexander McQueen ensemble featured in the exhibition Daphne Guinness at The Museum at FIT.
The collection evidences Daphne’s love of history. Each piece has a spatial relation to an historical reference married to a modern day edgy influence, from the ’20s shapely charmeuse gown to the buttoned down cloak with delicately tied ribbons at the cuff to the empire-waist, jewel-encrusted chiffon gauze frock to the militarily feminine waist coats. And, with a notably lithe frame, Daphne is no stranger to a flattering cat suit–they range from iridescent blue fish-like scales to crimson leather. The exhibit is largely steeped in black and white, like her signature hairstyle. There is some color in the story, but only a hint.
Ensembles from the DANDYISM section of the exhibition Daphne Guinness at The Museum at FIT.
By the way, if you love her subtly striking makeup, Daphne has partnered with MAC Cosmetics. Her new line debuts December 26.
PS: There is, of course, a fabulous accompaniment to the exhibit: a chic hardcover book on Daphne, written by Valerie Steele and Daphne Guinness. What’s additionally nice about this purchase is that all book sale royalties will benefit the Fashion Institute of Technology.
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