WHO IS DAPHNE GUINNESS?
The eccentric style icon opens up her newly on-the-market Fifth Avenue apartment to talk Twitter, fashion and what's inspiring her now. Photographs by Walter Chin.
Since joining Twitter in November 2010, artist and heiress Daphne Guinness (@therealdaphne) has tweeted 7,114 times and has 33,523 followers. She frequently posts pictures of herself taken in her apartment, and she has struck up friendships with a cadre of young Twitter followers—many of them aspiring designers and artists—and takes the time to converse with them. “It has brought some really interesting people into my life,” Guinness says, referring, in part, to young up-and-coming fashion designer Hogan McLaughlin, with whom she had a brief Twitter courtship before meeting in person. In fact, she regularly champions his work and is considered one of his muses. (Guinness included a few of McLaughlin’s designs in her collaboration with Barneys New York: An event she launched by dressing herself—in one of the store’s windows—in a feathered Alexander McQueen gown for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Costume Institute gala.)
Inside Guinness’s Daniel Romualdez–designed three-bedroom Fifth Avenue apartment overlooking the museum (in a building that was once the Stanhope hotel), she has on her bedroom nightstand a copy of Birdscapes, a pop-up that plays birdsong and was a gift from a Twitter follower. Then there’s The Homicidal Heiress, a book that Hogan created made up of intricate Edward Gorey–inspired dress sketches that she later showed to Barneys creative director Dennis Freedman; another one of her “Twitter connections,” as she calls them, gave her a rare set of perfumes. On the day of our shoot with Guinness, a bouquet of congratulatory balloons arrives—unannounced. These items are scattered around her home, a space whose design is as otherworldly as Guinness’s inspired personal style. Mirrors line the walls and ceiling, and contemporary works from Damien Hirst, Bert Stern and close friend David LaChapelle are displayed prominently throughout the apartment. There are stacks of international newspapers and bookcases full of scholarly tomes like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (one of Guinness’s favorites)—all to create an environment rife with intellectual decadence.
There have been parallels made between Guinness and other modern-day “style icons”—Nan Kempner, Grace Kelly and Tina Chow among them—but what’s incredibly ironic is that for a woman who is so widely revered for her idiosyncratic style, she does not believe in the term. “‘Fashion icon’ implies a wider impact than any person should have on a body of people,” she says.
Yet the public disagrees: Guinness’s every move seems to warrant a street-style snap, or, in the case of one devout fan, an entire Tumblr site dedicated to painstakingly documenting her event appearances, magazine placements and collaborations. “People who love fashion love her,” says Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology and author of Daphne Guinness. “But Daphne is an individualist, so she doesn’t base her style on anyone. She believes you should be true to yourself.”
Even with a closetful of one-of-a-kind pieces from McQueen, Gareth Pugh and Chanel, for Guinness her uniform can be whittled down to a crisp white shirt. “I’ve worn them for years,” she says. “I can’t think of how it came about, but my grandmother and mother were both keen on them, so perhaps I was emulating their aesthetic.” Guinness is dedicated to the shirts’ preservation, dry cleaning only the silk blouses and having the cotton ones washed at home and then “steamed to keep them crisp.” The trick, of course, is in the styling: She’s fond of using ribbons purchased at New York’s M&J Trimmings as makeshift accessories, tying one in her hair or wearing them as chokers with a brooch. Even Steele notes that while Guinness worked with her team on the F.I.T. exhibit that closed in early January, she inspired them to place brooches all over—tucking one unexpectedly in one’s hair or inside the collar of a jacket.
What’s most surprising even for someone with such a well-trained eye—she’ll pair a white Charvet shirt with Cartier and Fred Leighton diamonds and striped pants from Trash and Vaudeville—is that she believes one needn’t spend a fortune to dress well: “You could pick up a dress from Marks & Spencer and spend $30 having it altered so it does your shape justice,” she notes. Perhaps we shouldn’t be amazed by such democratic words of sartorial wisdom. After all, this is the same woman who, as we wrap up our shoot for the day, is so graciously having a group of young Twitter followers (who have been waiting patiently in the lobby of her building) up for afternoon tea. —Nandita Khanna