It is hard to walk around New York at the moment without seeing traces of Daphne Guinness. She is one of the unnamed models used by her friend David LaChapelle in new photographic works on display at the Lever House Art Collection. In the Metropolitan Museum, right opposite her apartment building, there is a major exhibition of work by another friend, the late Alexander McQueen, featuring many dresses from Guinness’s own collection. For the fund-raising event that opened the exhibition last month, Guinness did a performance piece in the windows of the hip department store Barney’s, trying on different outfits before finally putting on a glorious feathered creation by Sarah Burton – who took over the McQueen label after the designer’s death – and leaving for the ball. This September there will be an exhibition at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology entirely drawn from her extraordinary couture collection.
In the meantime, she is writing a novel, she is painting, and she has just finished three films. Two are by her friend the photographer Joe Lally, and she produced them as well as acts in them. (She has also directed her own short films, and Cashback , the film she produced for the photographer Sean Ellis, was nominated for an Oscar in 2004.) The third is a short about soul-swapping.
‘Anything that’s really just off the radar, I’ll do it,’ she says cheerfully. ‘There’s always zero budget, so I do my own hair and make-up and off we go.’
Guinness has her finger in so many creative pies that it is hard to know how to describe her: artist, actress, heiress, patron, muse, collector, model, designer? What she is, most of all, is something so rare these days that we tend to dismiss it as eccentricity: a woman who is always uniquely, authentically herself. With her striking badger-stripe hair and her quirky mix of couture, vintage and self-designed clothes, Guinness is a true original. Money helps in this, of course – and she is certainly wealthier than most of us will ever be, although not as rich as people think: ‘Hardly anybody ever is.’