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Daphne Guinness: “Grief takes you on a strange journey”


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Daphne Guinness
Short Profile

Name: Daphne Diana Joan Susanna Guinness
DOB: 9 November 1967
Place of birth: Hampstead, London, England
Occupation: Muse, singer

Daphne Guinness' debut album, Optimist in Black, is out now via Agent Anonyme Ltd.

Ms. Guinness, is it fair to say you like to provoke?

No! No, I’m always crouching in the corner. I shrink into the corner until I gauge the temperature of the room.

You were once quoted as saying, “I’ll eat when I’m dead.” That might suggest otherwise.

(Laughs) That was a total misrepresentation: I said it as a joke. When you’re shooting, when you’re doing exhibitions, you just don’t have time to eat — I was trying to be amusing to the person offering me lunch. I didn’t mean to be put down as a poster girl for anorexics, you know, obviously I don’t condone starving yourself for the sake of art, or anything else. It was just a joke that didn’t translate. Irony is the worst thing in print!

And in your case, it’s not just the things you say, but also what you wear that is heavily scrutinized.

Sure, but it’s better just to carry on doing what I do rather than obsessing about what people think. You know, back in the eighties people just dressed the way they listened to music. If you loved punk, or rock, or whatever, it was written in your wardrobe. Something happened in the nineties where things became commercialized and that authentic way of dressing morphed into something more homogenized. But I loved that and that’s still what informs my style. I have no idea about fashion.

So, you’re not trying to make a statement?

People judge on appearances. My appearance was, maybe is, quite startling. I don’t blend into the crowd; I like to dress up. But I always thought of that as being completely normal. I’m not a stylist and I’m not really in that world. You know, there’s often an agenda in fashion, that it’s all about the money. But to me that’s not the motivation. It’s all about passion for the things you enjoy and people that you like. Money is not the goal. That’s not what’s going to hold your hand when you’re dying, right?

“I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. But that silver spoon I choked on a long time ago.”

One might comment that that’s easier for you to say because you come from money.

Well, exactly. I feel that’s why I’m qualified to know because my upbringing certainly didn’t make me happy… I can only make these observations in poetry, though otherwise it looks like I’m trying to read a lesson. I’m aware of my position and it’s one I have no control over, this is just my point of view. I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. But that silver spoon I choked on a long time ago. (Laughs)

Even if money isn’t a goal, it must have been an advantage in your approach to fashion, which is, after all, a luxury business.

To me the clothes are works of art, and I respect their creators as artists, but you can’t take any of it with you, can you? All you have at the end of it all, is what you have done, and the people that you love. Money can even be an inhibitor of true creativity, I find. Take couture, for example. It’s got a terrible conversation about it now.

In what way?

The point of haute couture is like the man going to a tailor on Savile Row: the beauty is in the process. All the people are there to realize the conception inside your head. You can completely ignore the runway. But now it’s just like a regular shopping experience. The draw for me has always been the personalized aspect to the creative process. The intimacy between client and couturier that existed before, has suffered. I love resourcefulness and true creativity: you don’t need money for those things.

Alexander McQueen’s early work is a great example of making something beautiful from nothing.

Lee’s [McQueen] first collection was made from the cheapest materials, but they shone. Money can buy you artistry but it can’t buy you taste or personal style and it can’t buy imagination. When I was a teenager I had very little access to actual cash; I had no understanding of my family’s money. We didn’t have these visual props and references, so I had to improvise, to use my imagination. I used to make stuff out of rubbish bags and cut up old leather jackets from charity shops. And there was real joy in that.

As they say, ignorance is bliss.

Exactly. So, my inspiration really all grew from poetry and music. I actually always felt slightly out of place in the visual world. I don’t think that the visual world is divorced from the world of words — they can compliment each other, but it’s always assumed I’m first and foremost a visual person because of my relationship with clothes, when in fact I am most affected by sound. I hear things deeply and that’s what sparks my imagination… I always sang and I was always musical, and I’m finally putting that to use with an album, Optimist in Black. It was never a career move. I just did it because I like doing it.

“Depression, shock, inescapable sadness, anger… I learned that you can create magic from that.”

Were you concerned that it would be construed as a career move?

Definitely, I was very reluctant to release it after recording it, because I was aware it would seem like a fantasy project. Let’s face it: everybody wants to have a pop career. But I hate the commercialization of artistry: the way the big machine extracts talent, runs it dry and spits it back out again when it becomes exhausted. The conception was sort of triggered by accident — what actually sparked it was the death of my brother.

How come?

I went to Spain to be present for the scattering of his ashes. When I was there I reconnected with an old hippie friend from years ago; We said we’d go to Ireland, where some friends ran a recording studio, and record a cover of a Dylan song. I went to meet him, but he was such a hippie, he didn’t turn up! (Laughs) So to fill the time, I started making up these songs and that’s where it all began.

Death seems to, however morbidly, have a strong role in your creative process.

Grief takes you on a strange journey. The people left behind have so much to process, so much to purge but people don’t talk to each other anymore, they don’t speak to their neighbors. I think there’s been this corrosion of human connection; people have become so isolated. What we don’t realize is that everyone is susceptible to depression, shock, inescapable sadness, anger… But I learned that you can create magic from that.