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Cordial as can be, Daphne Guinness greeted a steady stream of students at the Fashion Institute of Technology Thursday, posing cheek-to-cheek with her admirers and gamely signing books, brochures and even scraps of paper.
Like entomologists examining their favorite species, they shot their cell phone cameras with abandon, zeroing in on her 10-inch Alexander McQueen heels, the Marie Antoinette-type coif, silver motorcycle rings and coils of ribbon wrapped around her wrists. Polite as she was under the scrutiny, Guinness almost reflexively shifted the attention to art or history or artisans who actually make her clothes. Such self-deference was exhibited time and again during a public discussion with The Museum at FIT’s director, Valerie Steele.
When a wedding photo of her then-very tame shoulder-length hairdo was flashed on the screen, Guinness explained how a stylist had chopped two feet off her hair. “Anyway, it was the Eighties, so it didn’t matter,” she said. Married at 19, Guinness said, “From 1989 to 2000, I was focusing in on my children. I hadn’t realized the world had changed a lot. AIDS had happened for starters and so many people in the arts died or were affected. The art of fashion was lost. Now the look is commercial. There are a lot of people who do a lot of things to be outrageous with fashion, hair or makeup. It became a very different landscape but things are looking up.”
With an exhibition of her not-to-be-topped wardrobe now on display at the museum, Guinness was the guest of honor at the “Fashion Icons and Insiders” symposium. In regards to her fastidious style, Guinness admitted she loves to wear things backwards, often combs The Walker Collection eyeing the workmanship on shotguns and spears and favors dandy looks due to a love of literature. The inevitable how-can-you-wear-those-shoes question prompted, “I wouldn’t wear them if they weren’t comfortable. They’re easy.”
As for parting with designer threads for the name of charity, she said, “In order for something to mean something you have to let things go. I figured it wouldn’t mean anything if I just gave ole tatty things.”
Afterwards, she told WWD she is making a few things of her own, including paintings and a new book. “I’ve started making quite a number of new things that go in a completely different direction. I also have to finish my novel,” she said. “Writing is a funny thing. It’s not like you’re working on a schedule. It comes in fits and starts. It will be ready when it’s ready. I’ve just got to get it right so that it will be as good as it can be.”
As for whether it will be autobiographical, she said, “Well, it’s not about beetles. It will be about what I’ve observed or imagined. Frankly, I’m not Winston Churchill or another public figure. I don’t think anyone would be particularly interested in my observations.”
Highly styled as she might be, she said, “I’m always myself. But I’m not very good in crowds. I don’t really think of myself. I don’t like to look at myself in the mirror, which is why my eye makeup is always crooked.”