Anyone can call themselves a fashionista. But few have the dedication and resources of legendary style icon (and Irish brewery heiress) Daphne Guinness. Famous for her diminutive frame, skunk-striped mane and devotion to fashion’s more outré designs (which she accessorizes with customized, 10-inch platforms), Guinness views fashion as an art form and dresses accordingly.
So it’s not surprising that her collection has been mined for an exhibit at the Museum at FIT. Curated by Valerie Steele, the exhibit opened during New York Fashion Week with a glittering soiree that drew the likes of Oscar de la Renta, Valentino Garavani, Zac Posen, Calvin Klein, Behnaz Sarafpour, John Bartlett, and Christian Siriano, all of whom came to pay tribute to the surprisingly shy muse who first landed on the International Best Dressed List back in 1994 (when she was still married to Greek shipping magnate, Spyros Niarchos) and who was among the first to wear Alexander McQueen, Gareth Pugh, and Hogan McLaughlin. (Who’s that you ask? Why, he’s the designer Guinness wore to the opening, which means his star is most definitely on the rise.)
As for the exhibit itself, it opens with an installation of Guinness’s otherworldly shoe collection – a towering sample of embroidered, caged, and otherwise lavishly embellished clodhoppers – displayed amid video screens flashing striking images of their wearer’s many appearances in the pages of Vogue, ELLE, and other high fashion mags.
The main room features a DG hologram that appears to float above the proceedings (recalling the Kate Moss hologram that closed Alexander McQueen’s Fall 2006 show). Below it, dozens of mannequins are grouped by vignette – Dandyism, Armor, Chic, Evening Chic, Exoticism, and Sparkle – showcasing looks from McQueen, Lagerfeld, Rick Owens, Azzedine Alaia, Christian Lacroix, Valentino, Chanel, Dior, TOM FORD, DOLCE&GABBANA, Junya Watanabe, and Gareth Pugh, among others.
“I used to use fashion as a defense, in a way,” Guinness said at the press preview the morning after the gala. “It was a protective tool.” This could be seen not only in the more overtly armor-like pieces (such as a brown leather Hogan jumpsuit, a metal mesh McQueen body stocking, and Gareth Pugh spiked trousers), but also in her choice of daywear, which typically involves second-skin leggings, a formal white dress shirt with extra-long cuffs and a structured black high-collared jacket, accessorized with the aforementioned platforms and huge silver knuckledusters that look more like talons than rings.
“I think everybody should be able to dress the way they want,” she added. “I would never say that someone has to dress a certain way to be relevant or stylish. It’s about wearing what makes you happy.”
It’s this inclusiveness that makes Guinness such a wonderful fashion iconoclast and role model. Because despite her own avant-garde style, she is one of the smartest, most down-to-earth and nonjudgmental fashionistas you could ever hope to meet – even if others don’t always return the favor.
“I can’t be anything but myself,” Guinness concluded with a smile. “Some people like it, and some people hate it – usually for the same reasons.”
The Daphne Guinness exhibit will be on display at the Museum at FIT through January 7, 2012.
Lauren David Peden writes for Rue La La as a Contributing Editor.