Sunday, September 18, 2011

Daphne Guinness Press Preview at F.I.T.

Daphne Guinness book cover, photo by Kevin Davies. Book available from Yale University Press in November.

I had the pleasure on Friday of attending the press preview for the Daphne Guinness exhibit which opened that day at the Fashion Institute of Technology at Seventh Avenue and 27th Street. You know Daphne Guinness – she is the fantastically creative style icon who inspires designers and brings their clothes to life, and also has forged her own signature look which is completely original. Daphne Guinness is an artist and her medium is clothes. This exhibition of her personal wardrobe was co-curated by Ms. Guinness and Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT, and includes 100 garments and accessories from the icon's personal collection, plus films, videos and images of and by her. It's up until January 7, 2012 and admission is free.

Daphne Guinness was born in 1967 to Jonathan Guinness, 3rd Baron Moyne, and his second wife Suzanne Lisney. Jonathan himself is the son of Bryan Guinness and...wait for it...Diana Mitford of the renowned Mitford sisters. The Guinness family of Ireland of course is known for its accomplishments in banking, politics, and dark beer brewing. Daphne married Spyros Niarchos, son of Greek shipping billionaire Stavros Niarchos who was famously the business rival of Aristotle Onassis. Daphne and Spyros had three children and were divorced in 1999.

Since then she has become renowned in the world of fashion for her personal style and knowledge of fashion. She was great friends with English talents Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow, who both have tragically committed suicide. Her extremely romantic and imaginative style is a joy to see and I was looking forward to the exhibition at FIT.

When I am attending a press preview, I tend to rush in and circle around to try to take in the whole thing at once. Gradually though I slow down and the clothes begin to speak. The museum gallery space down in the basement level was designed by Ken Nintzel and divided into sections and rooms inspired by Daphne's New York City apartment so this show looks very different from exhibitions in the past like the Ralph Rucci one, where the gallery was open and expansive.
The show is organized by themes. The fantastic feather cape is part of the "Sparkle" group.

I loved these very precise jackets inspired by the tailoring of Savile Row in London.

A strict black tailored jacket is decorated with lace, a velvet ribbon and sparkling jewelry for a wonderful combination of structure and a touch of whimsy.

In contrast to that black tailoring are these white ensembles decorated with glittering stones. On the left is a silk chiffon dress by Alexander McQueen with rhinestones, and on the right is an ivory silk faile Chanel jacket with embroidered stone trim.

There were some futuristic, avant garde, sculptural silver dresses but my favorite piece was this narrow black sheath decorated with jewels around the neck and fur around the armholes by Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy. I love the simplicity of the line embellished with a little extravagance.

A P.R. woman came around and said that Daphne was arriving upstairs with Valerie Steele to speak and answer questions. I went upstairs just in time to see Valerie and Daphne crossing the building lobby to a microphone. Daphne was wearing a black tailored jacket and a white shirt with the white cuffs extended and the collar turned up. Around the collar was tied a burgundy velvet ribbon which trailed down her shoulder, and a pin decorated the ribbon. She had on black tights and the high black shoes with no heel; I think those are by Alexander McQueen. So the top was very romantic and the bottom was very modern.

The first question she got was "Who inspires you?" and without a beat she said, "Diana Vreeland." She spoke with a lovely English accent with a little bit of an Irish accent at the end of a sentence. She said that Diana Vreeland really "inhabited her clothes." Daphne's inspiration also comes from reading a lot by books, as she imagines what the heroine would be wearing. She said, to laughter, that her own sense of style was "a series of mistakes."

I raised my hand with others and Valerie Steele pointed and said, "White hair." That was me. I said, "Daphne, your grandmother was Diana Mitford and I wonder if you could talk about her and how she influenced you." "My grandmother had very strict style," she replied. "She was tall and had a vertical line. She was a writer and not very into fashion. My great-aunts Nancy and Debo went to the fashion shows and that is how I met Mr. Givenchy. But I am always happy to return to the simple, neat, vertical style of my grandmother." I thought her answer was so interesting because that is exactly what I had admired in her black Givenchy gown downstairs.

Someone asked her if she was inspired by contemporary artists and she said she was more inspired by the Old Masters like the seventeenth century Spanish painter Zuburán, who Carolyne Roehm had also named as a favorite artist. "I go back in time," said Daphne.

When asked to name what she was wearing, she stated that it was an "old McQueen jacket" and a white shirt and leggings which she makes. "I always wanted to wear men's suits," she said. "When the cut is right, it's a default position." She talked about the role of clothing. "You can use it as a defense. Growing up you know your group by the way you dress. I was the anti-Sloane Ranger. Instead of a little skirt and a little sweater, I had leather studded belts and leggings and was very grumpy so no one would come near me."

"My style used to be a protective tool and now it's not," she said to more laughter since now her style is a subject of great interest. "Chic is a kind of armor that protects you against the world."

A big reason she agreed to do the show was so that students at FIT and others could view the clothes and look at how they are made. "It was the right thing to do," she said, "so that people would be able to see this." Don't miss this show. It's an inspiration and I plan to return.


P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

Bart, I love your new header. I will be visiting FIT next week to see this. Can not wait to see this. I am so behind in reading the blogs I love-yours is one. pgt

Bart Boehlert said...

Hi Gaye, Great to hear from you. Thanks about the header. I love your blog too! And enjoy DG.

Unknown said...

I also wished they would also create an exhibit for tailor made suits to make men inspired to wear them for a more sophisticated look.