Daphne Diana Joan Susanna Guinness is an artist of both British and Irish nationality. She also serves as an inspiration and muse to other artists of the avant-garde. She is an heir by direct descent of Arthur Guinness, the 18th-century inventor of the beer that still bears his name.
The daughter of Irish brewing heir Jonathan Guinness, Lord Moyne, and French beauty Suzanne Lisney—and granddaughter of Diana Mitford, the celebrated aristocrat whose second husband was British fascist Sir Oswald Mosley—she and her brother, Sebastian, grew up in stately homes in Ireland and England and spent summers in an 18th-century former monastery in Cadaqués, on the Spanish coast near Barcelona, where the neighbors included surrealists Dalí and Man Ray. During her parents’ 41-year marriage, her father maintained a relationship with an Englishwoman with whom he had three children. Daphne, frequently alone, found solace in books.
At 19, in 1987, she married Spyros Niarchos, 12 years her senior and a son of the fabulously wealthy Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos. Surrounded by bodyguards and staff, she shuttled between the clan’s private island in Greece and their palatial residences in New York, Saint Moritz and elsewhere—usually on the family’s aircraft or their superyacht, Atlantis II. According to sources, Niarchos was a possessive and jealous husband, and Guinness became more restrained and conservative under the yoke of their marriage. Isolated in what a friend describes as “a Fabergé cage,” Guinness tried to escape the constrictions of her life through clothes. “I shopped a lot,” she recalls. But it was her unique way of putting things together that made her the dream client for many a designer. “Daphne amazes me all the time,” says Valentino. “When I think she has reached the best, then she comes up with something better.”
Guinness explains today that she’s always preferred to “inhabit clothes rather than wear them.” Nevertheless, say friends, the marriage to Niarchos shattered her self-esteem, which was not that strong to begin with. In 1999, after having three children with him (now 19, 17 and 13), she obtained a divorce.
Daphne Guinness is an important figure in the world of fashion, as a notable face, a collector, and an icon. At the request of Fashion Institute of Technology director Valerie Steele, she spent two years mounting an exhibition of a hundred displays of her clothing, which was staged within the context of her other projects, film and modelling. She is courted by many of the best-known names in fashion (such as Karl Lagerfeld, NARS, MAC, Akris, and Philip Treacy), working with them artistically or as a model or both.
Her best-known friend was the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen. Scheduled to model for charity on the runway the day his suicide was announced, Guinness veiled herself in mourning. In January 2011, she was asked by Tom Ford to close his brilliant comeback womenswear show. She creates and invents many objects herself, many inspired by her fascination with armour. She is known for a taste for skinny pants and platform pumps. She designs fashion, jewelry, and perfume for herself when she cannot find exactly what she wants to wear or buy. She has said that she created more than 100 pieces in 2010 alone. Since 1994, she has been on the International Best Dressed Hall of Fame, which seeks to identify the best-dressed women in the world. In 2011, she created a make-up line for MAC cosmetics, a limited-edition scent for Comme des Garçons, the creation of a diamond-encrusted, armor-inspired glove in collaboration with British jeweler Shaun Leane, and the founding of her own film production company, Mnemosyne.
Daphne Guinness seeks to inspire young women through her intensely cultivated style and elegance. Lady Gaga is among them, as she discussed on a broadcast featured on SHOWstudio.com. Cathy Horyn of the New York Times asked Gaga about any influence by Isabella Blow and Daphne Guinness. Lady Gaga replied: “Isabella and Daphne are two exceptional human beings, women, icons. And more than that! They have helped me look inside myself. I’ve examined their lives and their personalities in order to understand myself better. Daphne, like Isabella, is a huge source of inspiration for me. I cherish their lives. I cherish them both. It is as if we are all cut from the same cloth”.
She has walked in two of Naomi Campbell’s Fashion for Relief shows with the purpose of raising funds for disaster victims. In the same vein, in April 2008, she auctioned off a part of her wardrobe, with the entire proceeds going to a struggling British charity called Womankind Worldwide, which deals with women’s issues at home and abroad, such as domestic violence.
On 27 June 2012, through the auction house Christie’s, she will auction off a hundred pieces of her clothing to raise money for the Isabella Blow Foundation, which Guinness founded to commemorate her late friend and bring attention to mental health issues.
In June 2010, for an undisclosed sum, she blocked the planned Christie’s auction of the wardrobe of Isabella Blow, her friend who committed suicide in 2007. This collection had inestimable artistic value. Asked by Suzy Menkes, and the Financial Times, why she intervened, she simply declared that she was not going to stand by whilst the memory of her friend “was scattered to the four winds”. She intends for the Blow archive to be seen by students.
“I shall never get over Issie’s absence, and when I heard her estate needed to be settled so that her sisters could pay off its debts, the realisation of what that would entail was really the last straw. The planned sale at Christie’s could only result in carnage, as souvenir seekers plundered the incredible body of work Issie had created over her life…
Indeed, in many ways, the auction would not be merely a sale of clothes; it would be a sale of what was left of Issie, and the carrion crows would gather and take away her essence forever. With biographical books and movies about to appear, the timing made me absolutely nauseous and I know she would have hated it. Isabella was my friend when she was alive, and that fact is unchanged by her death, and as her friend I did not want anybody misappropriating her vision, her life and her particular genius.”
Daphne Guinness has worked in a variety of roles: artist, actress, muse, model, collector and designer. She is the muse of many photographers who are fascinated by her beauty and feel for artistic performance. Steven Klein, the renowned photographer of such celebrities as Madonna and Lady Gaga, chose Guinness for two Vogue Italia covers. In the first, she plays Jean Seberg in Romain Gary’s “Les Oiseaux vont mourir au Perou” In the other, she embodies Delphine Seyrig in Alain Resnais’ masterpiece, ‘L’annee derniere a mariebad’.
David LaChapelle is a longtime friend and collaborator, and chose her to appear in his Maybach advertising campaign in two intricate pictures for the car’s Zeppelin model. On another occasion, when working for LaChapelle, she spent six hours in a tank of water, immersed for up to two minutes at a time, to produce two underwater images, including the famous “Daphne Guinness in Water”.
She is also featured in the series “Return to Eden”, which has not yet been released. In September 2011, more than half a million visitors attended the Alexander McQueen exhibition “Savage Beauty”, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Shortly thereafter, the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology devoted one of its galleries to about a hundred of Daphne’s most important pieces.