Daphne Guinness Thinks She’s A Bad Interview
In addition to the occasional jeweled hair ornament, Daphne Guinness wears several proverbial hats. Let’s see: There’s stylist, muse, designer, model, and collector of haute couture. Last year, she added filmmaker and now, with the launch of a new fragrance called Daphne created with Comme des Garçons, her latest title is perfumer. Or at least commercial perfumer, as Guinness has long been concocting her own delicious scents. “It took two-and-a-half years,” says Guinness of the Daphne process. “We went through seven versions and I was there every step of the way, really top to bottom.” Daphne goes on sale today at Dover Street Market in London (and worldwide on September 18), where last night she showed a short film she created to creatively extend and in a way explain her latest project. We caught up with Guinness during the editing process to chat about tuberose, Topshop, and pterodactyls. Click above to see her film Mnemosyne, and for more information go to http://themnemosyneproject.com/.
I don’t know much about the film other than it’s not a veiled commercial. Can you fill me in?
Because I interview so badly, I wanted to make a kind of anti-commercial—an explanation of what it is when I start talking about memory, music, and the idea of certain smells bringing back childhood memories. It’s like time travel. Suddenly it takes you back 20 years. Also, when you give birth to something, you go through a feeling of elation and then you come to a grieving period. My way of dealing with the fact that I’d done the final version of the scent was to extend it with an appendage. I had been through the process last year when I did a pendant for another project that I did, which was the sale of my clothes.
What’s the origin of the name Mnemosyne?
Mnemosyne is the ancient Greek word for memory. I thought Daphne is an ancient Greek name and it kind of makes sense. I think when you are very, very young, there are certain things that grab you and the film—I hope—will demonstrate that to a degree, because it’s difficult to explain. Memories are like mercury. Every time you sort of try to get near them, they slip out of your hand like a bar of soap.
The heart of Daphne is tuberose. What memories does that trigger for you?
My mother and the flower market in Figueres in Spain and in Cadaqués, where I grew up. We always used to have these huge vats of them, and they would just fill the house with scent all summer long. It reminds me of my childhood. I would collect them and put them all on greaseproof paper with a kind of gel, and then you leave it for a few days. Then you’d scrape off the gel and have a sort of essence. It’s quite an ancient plant. Don’t quote me on this, but someone told me that pterodactyls used to eat them.
Really? I sort of like that as poetic, unproven fact.
Well, I’m full of poetic, unproven fact. But it does make sense, because when they die they smell like rotting flesh, and that’s why pterodactyls were attracted to them—actually maybe it was archaeopteryx. Tuberose, they’re not beautiful in the peony sense of the word, but the smell is unlike anything else. I love it. And I love the scent of sort of all those woods that you get from the Middle East. I grew up in the seventies and everybody was running around burning Joss sticks and, you know, banging tambourines.
How important is fragrance to your whole ensemble?
Huge. Huge. It’s a ritual. I’ve also got a few of them in my head. What’s so annoying about doing one is the fact that I could transpose that down or up and that’s what I do every day. I just go to my cupboard and I sort of look at all my different oils and think, “OK, right, today this is the baseline and I’m going to build it up to there.” And they’re not hundreds of dollars, these oils. There are two or three places—Arab shops—where I can go and get pretty much what I want.
You’re a unique fashion entity with all the different things you do. Is there a way that you define yourself?
I can’t be objective. I’m just never sure about it. You know, when I’m with friends who are creative, I speak their language. I love to create beautiful things and I like to be around people who are trying to do things that are authentic. Even if I don’t have a huge budget, I’ll do it anyway. Give me four plastic bags and I can do a shoot. I kid you not, I did a shoot once with just rubbish bags, gluing them together. People think I’m Miss Couture, but I know how to do it.
But you do have a great love for haute couture.
Honestly, why I love couture is the people that do it. I like going to speak to the ladies that sew or embroider, because they are absolutely masters. It’s just a dying craft. I mean, I can only afford a couple of pieces, and I’m lucky enough to be able to fit into samples. When you see the whole backstory and you know the people, and when you put on a jacket and find a pin in your sleeve, that’s so great because you think that day of who made it. People in the world will continue to make clothes by hand, but at the level of Paris, I’m not sure whether the guys that run these huge conglomerates or whatever…
Can we talk about your streaks?
You know, my hair is a complete mistake. I’ve had it for quite a long time. It’s just gotten more and more extreme. But it’s not like someone said, “You know what? You need hair that goes like this and this.”
It’s definitely cooler that it wasn’t planned.
No, not at all. Because it was kind of red underneath and then it went purple and aubergine. And I thought, “Oh shit, maybe I should not behave like a 12-year-old.” So I kind of did it myself and got it slightly wrong and then had to go the hairdresser and said, “OK, well let’s do it. If I’m this far along anyway, let’s just do it black and white.” I mean, not black and white. It’s actually very dark brown and white blond.
It’s quite the recognizable trademark. You own that look.
I know, but now there’s no way I can get rid of it unless I shave my head and dye it black.
How do you get dressed in the morning?
By a wing and a prayer. If you look very carefully, mainly it’s the same thing and I re-accessorize it. Or I have the same jacket made again and again. Or I’ll have a sparkly coat or I’ll just have a new pair of shoes. It’s pretty easy, actually.
I’m a big advocate of women knowing which silhouette works on them and working within those parameters.
It’s like having that baseline of scent that I cover up myself with. You know, I’ll have a baseline of clothes and then I’ll work up from that. During the day, it sort of develops. Then I’ll sometimes think, “Oh God, how did I do that?” But then I can never recreate it. The only times I ever go wrong is [borrowing]. And bless people for lending, but I can only ever wear things that are mine, even if it’s a T-shirt. Unless I go through that process, it doesn’t look right. And you know, I love Topshop. I go with my daughter all the time.
You really go to Topshop?
Yes, but it’s almost like you have to say, “All right, I’m going to Topshop. I’m going to close my eyes and ears, and maybe I should have a stiff drink.” Or not. I’m just kidding, but you go in there and there’s like 50 billion screaming teenagers. But the people who work there are so cool and so great. And they change the stuff all the time. I buy stuff at Topshop that you find in Gucci. I mean, it’s so great.
You did a capsule of shirts for Dover Street Market a while ago. Would you consider designing more clothes?
Yeah, I would, but the thing is, I’m a cottage industry. It’s just me and I’ve got an assistant and that’s about it. Apart from that, I have tons of ideas, but absolutely no way to do it.
Where are you on your jewelry collaboration with Shaun Leane?
I’ve been like, “Sha-aun, where is it? It was supposed to be finished two years ago.” We had to mold my arm. The amount of work that’s gone into it! I kept on thinking, “I want it to look like metal is growing out of my arm.” It’s sort of a mixture between that, plus kind of Joan of Arc, plus a shotgun, plus kind of like flying birds and barbed wire. It’s fully articulated and it’s kind of in pieces.
How many did you make?
This is just one and we will make another if someone wants one. Then we will break it down into separate elements. And I already did that, funnily enough. The working model of the bit that goes over the hand looked very cool so I said, “Shaun, let’s make three and sell them at Dover Street.” And then we said we’ll do the fingers. It’s funny, every idea that has an incarnation brings another one. I just wish I could do more. I’ve just got to get…
Yeah, get a clone. No, or a proper workshop or something. I’m in the process of doing that, because it’s just too much fun. I think that people:or at least my friends—are kind of sick of the same old, same old. The other thing is that I don’t believe in seasons. That’s why I love Azzedine so much; he always shows out of season. Seasons are really annoying. You get a really great pair of shoes or a beautiful pair of boots and then you try to get them again four months later and they say, “Oh no, that was last season.” I like things that you can buy ten years down the road.
That’s a huge pet peeve of mine. I’ve had so many things get canceled on me.
Yeah, I mean, it’s always the deodorant you like. It’s always the lipstick you like. It’s always the mascara you love. And they replace it with something lame and badly made that falls to pieces or gives you a rash.
Where do you see most creative things happening right now, aside from your own lair?
Well, I can’t be objective about my own lair. You know, you only do what you do. Where do I see it? David LaChapelle. He’s doing the most unbelievable new work. What he is doing is abso-lute-ly genius. And Steven Klein as well. There are photographers who have a magic about them. David’s new work is sort of prophetic. I mean, he did the Deluge series before the crash. The things he’s finishing up now are just amazing. I see it in music. I mean, there are so many great people. Underground bands. If you go Williamsburg and university towns, you see a lot of creativity. And at my son’s art school. And again, when I went up to see the college shows of the fashion graduates, which for me are as exciting as going to a couture show. The creativity is there. It gives me hope that things aren’t as bad as I tend to think.
This was great. You were actually a wonderful interview.
Without my voice and hand gestures, when it comes out on the page, it sounds like I’m being very preachy. I do have a lot of fun doing all of this. I take it all very seriously, but I’m not a serious person. I’m not kind of “Oh gosh, I’m so cool.” I’m very, very relaxed.