Saturday, October 9, 2010

Daphne Guinness, Yes The "Stout Muse" Heiress

I came across this 2007 article via The Times about Daphne Guinness and found it very interesting. I knew that Daphne was a very close friend  of my all time favorite designer, the late Alexander McQueen, and sometimes his muse. She is also the heiress to the Guinness Empire, as well as a Haute Couture Collector. And YES Stavros Niarchos (Paris Hilton's ex boyfriend) is one of her 3 son's. Reading about her, it sounds like she has a pretty interesting life and family story, and I love her crazy style!

The daughter of the brewery heir Jonathan Guinness, aka Lord Moyne, and the youngest of five, she spent part of her childhood in an artists’ colony in Spain, where she used to swim in Salvador Dali’s lobster-filled swimming pool; part of it in Paris, where, with her mother, the French beauty Suzanne Lisney (who died of lung cancer two years ago), she’d sit in the front row of all the couture shows; and part of it in London, where she’d spend Saturdays in the art-deco room in Biba, drinking strawberry milkshakes and developing her trademark passion for all things feathered. As the designer Valentino told American Vogue: “We joke that we can find her in London by just following the plumes scattered on the ground.”

In the early to mid-1980s, she lived in New York, where her sister Catherine Guinness was PA to Andy Warhol, and toyed with the idea of becoming an opera singer. Her friends at the time were Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, the owners of Studio 54, Fred Hughes, the editor of Interview magazine, and, of course, Andy himself, although he never really said anything to her because she was always so terribly shy, sheltering herself from the world with her outrageous outfits.

“That’s why I could probably be quite a good actress,” Guinness offers, the pair of us now in the back of her chauffeur-driven car, en route to the north London mansion she shares with her three children by her exhusband, Spyros Niarchos. “Being in disguise, assuming another role, hiding behind a costume, is so easy. Being oneself, now that’s always a little more tricky, don’t you think?”

It was exactly 20 years ago yesterday, as Guinness volunteers, that she got married to Niarchos, son of the Greek shipping billionaire Stavros Niarchos. The couple met on a skiing trip in Switzerland and tied the knot in 1987, when Daphne was only 19. They divorced in 1999 – Daphne was reported to have got a settlement of about £20m. “Gosh, being married, that was my ‘caged bird’ period,” she recalls as we walk through the ultra-grand hallway, past the Chapman brothers’ “crucified hamburger” sculpture, past the Grayson Perry mind maps, past her precious 17th-century disembowelling prints. “One long round of boats and bodyguards and Greek islands and glitzy resorts. Not me at all. I remember, for example, going to that ghastly place in St Tropez, Cinquante Cinq, with all these people at the table eating in their bikinis and getting sprayed by those horrible hoses they’ve got in the canopy above, and there I was in full riding gear. Well, I didn’t want to be half naked in front of all these ghastly, repulsive pink people in their horrid little floaty dresses getting sprayed with water, did I?”

We are now sitting in her drawing room, an equally ornate space overlooking an outrageously large garden. It is filled with books (“Reading is my passion. I can sit for hours dissecting a book on English grammar”), overflowing arrangements of cabbage roses and more art she has either inherited or collected on the way. Above the stripy sofa, opposite one of Damien Hirst’s more magnificent butterfly canvases, is a large portrait of her grandfather, the poet Bryan Guinness, and her father, Jonathan, as a baby, being carried in the arms of his mother, Diana. “You can see there’s a lot going on in that picture,” Guinness points out wryly. “Looks like she’d far rather be somewhere else – like in the arms of that Oswald Mosley, right?”

Scattered round the room, meanwhile, are framed photographs of her and her beloved children. Here they are in Spetsopoula, the Niarchos family’s private island; here they are when they lived in their grand, art-deco-appointed townhouse in New York. “It’s funny, I love it here in north London, but I’m thinking of moving to a flat in town. I get so lonely when the children aren’t around [the eldest is now studying comparative literature at Yale], and they’re not around a lot, because they stay with their father over every single one of the holidays. Christmas is the worst. I always have to take myself off somewhere, usually to a hotel, because I worry that if I stay with friends, I might be a pain in the neck. Last year, I ended up scheduling myself a hernia operation in LA to while away the time. The thing was, it ended up being much more serious than they thought; they had to keep me in for ages, and because I had come alone, without telling anyone where I was, I had to sign in the concierge at the Beverly Hills Hotel as my own next of kin.”

“In a way, I love being older, much better than being in my married twenties,” she continues. “The awful thing is ending up, er, alone . . .” Readers will remember the pint-sized actor Tom Hollander as her last public paramour. She says she has a very good “working relationship” with her exhusband and is categorically not seeing anybody else.

While we both stare at the trampoline outside, contemplating this thought of her being 70 and alone, in walks her middle son, a modelly-looking 15-year-old, to tell his mum he just got back from the doctor and thinks he needs to be off school for a few days. Guinness’s aristocratic features, simultaneously young and old for her years, are suddenly suffused with maternal pride. “Love you, darling,” she calls as he ambles out of the room, and then, to me: “It’s so strange being all these different things. A mother. An ex-wife. And then this, I don’t know, fashion person, I suppose. In a way, what I’m trying to do, after 15 years of not really doing very much with my life, is to start anew, to reinvent myself, although not in an egotistical way. What I love doing most of all is collaborating with people” – she recently produced a film short with the fashion photographer Sean Ellis, which won an Academy Award nomination – “and being the midwife, if you like, to their brilliance. One of the nice things about having a bit of money is being able to make things happen. Not just in fashion, but in a political way. I mean, isn’t that part of the social contract? Isn’t that what people with money are meant to do? Bring others up rather than down, rather than hog it all for themselves? I’m sure that’s what Bertrand Russell used to say. He was so clever, Bertrand Russell – funnily enough, a distant relative.”
Daphne insists that her driver take me home.

As we drive away, I think of how her friend Amanda Harlech once described her: “She’s like Tinker Bell, like thistledown or gossamer. If you hug her, she’ll break in two.” I think of her rattling around that great big house of hers like a tiny little pea.


— Sudden illuminating ideas where you get that amazing feeling of what life is all about

— Classical architecture

— Beautiful jewellery

— Thunderstorms and clouds

— Moss

— Mushrooms

— Butterflies

— Rocks

— High mountain peaks where the air burns your throat

— Textiles and embroideries

— Armour and ancient weapons

— The human skeleton, and how to drape it (it’s quite wonderful naked as well)

— Love, but that should be first

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