DAPHNE GUINNESS the heiress with it all — literally. A glamorous mother of three and a designer’s muse for her supreme elegance, she is turning the page on her past spent in a golden cage to live freely and work on her own art. Opening a new chapter of her life with a short film,THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF BODY, about the forms of dress throughout fashion history that serve to conceal and confine feminine identity.
photographed by PAUL WETHERELL
styled by HEIDI BIVENS
interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you’ve just directed your first film.
DAPHNE GUINNESS — Yes. It’s a short film — four minutes and twenty-eight seconds. We cut it down to this length to account for people being attention-deficient. [Laughs] I wanted to pack a real visual punch, this being my first film.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you shoot it in video?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — No, sixteen millimeter. It was a great experience. It all happened very rapidly. The idea came to me, and two weeks later we were in production.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you enjoy working so quickly?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — Yes, but then I want it all to stop. [Laughs] I have strong surges of ideas, and then it’s necessary to retract inside myself a bit.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Tell me a little about the film.
DAPHNE GUINNESS — It’s called The Phenomenology of the Body. It’s about the souls of thirteen women. We start with Eve, and using thirteen different looks, work our way up to a woman in a burka, which she eventually removes. The historical looks include the toga, Joan of Arc, Marie Antoinette, suffragette, Mao Tse Tung, flapper, housewife, Hollywood, and the burka. I came up with about 25 different looks and then whittled the number down. I hired Heidi Bivens as a stylist and had her running off to find burkas in New York.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So it’s about a woman’s identity.
DAPHNE GUINNESS — Yes. It’s about concealment, release, visibility, and invisibility; about religion and politics. It’s about how we constrict ourselves, release ourselves, manner or style ourselves, and why we do that. It’s also about knowledge. I’m an atheist myself, but the story of Eve and the apple is a beautiful romantic quest for knowledge. Then we touch on the idea of Empire — wanting people to look the same, keeping them in a box, like in ancient Greece or Rome. Clothing can give people status in their society, but clothing changes over time. New things come in as time passes. Trying to fit all of that into four and a half minutes was very simple and complex at the same time. But I had such a good time making it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What about your own life these days?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — I share my life between London and New York. For two years it’s been ten days in one place, ten in another, back and forth, back and forth. But my base is still London. I’ve got family there.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Can you tell me a little about your parents and your childhood?
DAPHNE GUINNESS – I grew up in Cadaqués, Spain. My parents lived in a monastery, up a long winding road on the top of a hill. There were five monks and a proper working church. We’d spend three or four months a year there, getting away from everything. The rest of the time I was in London, or Ireland, and a bit of Paris, with my grandmother. It was a romantic and eccentric life. My parents were free spirits. My father, Jonathan Guinness, Lord Moyne, was an intellectual, academic writer. An Anglo-Irish historian, into politics. His parents were both writers. He loves to be with his books. Very hard-working, clever. He’s still alive, but my mother, Suzanne Lisney, died recently.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What was your French mother like?
DAPHNE GUINNESS – She was such a beautiful painter. But stopped suddenly. I never asked her why. She didn’t want to talk about it. I found her old box of paints one day. She was very close to Dalí. That’s how she met her first husband; he was around Dalí, and also a painter. Maybe that’s why she stopped painting — maybe it was difficult for them both to be painters. She was French, but not by blood, if that makes sense. Definitely not English, and much more at home in France. She was also close to Duchamp and Man Ray. Dalí was the one I knew best. I was 14 or 15 when he died. His wife Gala was so scary. She hated children! [Laughs] We were told to keep away.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Were you the only girl?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — Yes. Well, it’s complicated. My father … um, but that’s another story. [Laughs] And it gets more complicated. But they’re beautiful, the complications.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Has fashion always been a passion?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — No, I used to draw and paint. I was good in the arts — singing, drama. But fashion? I never felt like I was some sort of a fashion icon. But when I was married, I was in quite a traditional position and fashion became a means of expression for me.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Weren’t you married at eighteen?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — Just turned nineteen. I entered a completely different life for 15 years. I blocked out the rest of the world, looking through a glass. I went to lots of places but I really couldn’t engage with them. I didn’t really do much besides read, listen to music, and have children. [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — You have three children, right?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — Yes. They’re super nice, my children. The oldest is nineteen. He’s in Iran right now, staying with a friend. He goes to dangerous places sometimes. But I think you have to let your children fly.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you’re on your own again now.
DAPHNE GUINNESS — Yes. And not married.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You have such an extreme sense of style. It’s an interesting blend of the aristocratic and bohemian.
DAPHNE GUINNESS — My fashion sense is very weird. But I love fashion. I love making things. I love re-ordering things, transplanting a button or some other detail onto something else. I like things to be perfect, but not too perfect. I like to inhabit my clothes; I don’t want them to wear me. It takes me about five minutes to get dressed. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. If I have too much choice I get freaked-out. I like simplicity: you make things extreme and then pull them back. I’ll take the buttons off of one, put them on another. Mix it up a little. I love fabric. I’m doing these shirts, with Comme des Garçons, which are being sold in London at Dover Street Market. They’re for women, but I’m going to start doing some for men.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What do you like about men’s clothes?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — I love tailoring. I’m always walking up and down Savile Row. I’m better at men’s clothes — my sense of style probably is based on men’s suits for women. I’m influenced by dandyism. I like riding coats, for example. But I want to reorganize it all for the 21st century.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you travel with a lot of clothes?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — It depends. Yeah, I do! [Laughs] Far too many. But I collect them like pieces of art. Old ones.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you think your family background has influenced your fashion design?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — We grew up in a world with no rules — and a lot of humor. All families have good things and bad things, but we always had humor — British humor. I sometimes try and recreate scenes from my childhood in my mind, the funny things that happened.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How do women react to your strong sense of style?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — Some women really dislike it. I hear the criticism, but I can’t change who I am, you know? What am I going to do, slash my wrists? [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — Some people never find their own style.
DAPHNE GUINNESS — Well, there’s fashion and then there’s style, right? What I hate is all the brands, and logos everywhere. We have to fight against that. It gets me down sometimes when I see other cultures, like those in the Far East, buying into it all. It’s harder to find artisans that do specialist work now, even in India. It’s all becoming so corporate.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What about your obsession for jewelry?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — I love jewelry. Love it! I could cover myself in it. I’m making a metal arm-piece. I used to collect weapons. [Laughs] Swords. I used to be interested in shooting, too. I wasn’t very good at it, but I had a lot of brothers, and being in the country a lot, it just developed. But I prefer to fish, and then eat the fish. Don’t like eating pheasant! [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is living in New York a way to simplify things?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — Well, I lived in New York when I was married. All my children were born there. It’s a great place to live, and I love working there. London can be a little depressing in the wintertime.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you like to visit Paris?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — Yes, I love Paris. I spent a lot of time in Orsay, and then in Paris with my grandmother [ed: Diana Mitford] when I was growing up. When I was married, she was one of the only people I used to see. She was bright, simple, and complex — controversial, multilingual, and very funny. She instilled my love of literature.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, now you’re starting a new life, as an artist.
DAPHNE GUINNESS — Yes. And I’m embracing it! You never know how much time you’ve got left.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you writing something at the moment?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — Yes, I’m working on a novel. It’s a long process, and I’m constantly derailed by things. First of all, I have no home. I’m just moving in, trying to find everything. I’ve been homeless since November, which is terrible, but I’ve finally put down some roots in New York, and in London again. You do need a home to write in.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You like to take pictures, as well, don’t you?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — I love taking pictures, but my technical side needs some work — mainly with the lighting. But I used to be quite good. I like black-and-white, and I love solar prints. I’m obsessed with Man Ray, actually. I love all forms of art, apart from TV. Not too keen on TV — especially those reality TV shows! Everyone is so mean. I hate that! I just want people to feel free. And now I sound like a hippie! [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — Your life might serve as an inspiration to other women.
DAPHNE GUINNESS — I’m not sure I would recommend my way of life to someone, to be perfectly honest. I’ve been lucky. [Laughs] I’m too much in it to have an objective view. Fashion will always be a big part of what I do, but these things aren’t mutually exclusive. They complement each other. Having worked in different areas, and having had different points of view, I think I’m managing to bring them together. Molding them into something that’s my own — a new life. I don’t know where it’s going, but I’m in an interesting place right now.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Would you like to try acting one day?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — I did act quite a lot at one point. I took a six-month alternative acting course in London with Philip Gaulier. But I’m not sure if I’m an actress. I prefer directing. Also, I used to be very shy. I’m much less so now. Fashion was a way for me to bring myself out of that. I’m both strong and I’m not strong. I still sometimes panic. But I try not to think about it too much. And I wake up every day thinking how great life is.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you think a woman’s character can change?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — I think your innate character is always there, but it’s like chemical reactions: you have to get into the right context to be able to realize your true character. Some people never really do.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You’re always putting yourself in new contexts. Isn’t that sometimes scary?
DAPHNE GUINNESS — It’s terrifying, absolutely terrifying! It’s like jumping off a cliff without a parachute. That’s how I feel most days. But, it’s a very, very good life. That’s for sure. I must sound like a lunatic. [Laughs] But it’s true. Life can be just one big terrifying prospect. I keep wondering how much longer can this go on? I want to compress it all. I’m not on drugs, but I must sound like I’ve dropped acid or something! [Laughs]
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