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April 17 2014

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Daphne Guinness Sings the Blues

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Artist, producer, muse—all words that describe Daphne Guinness. But soprano? Well, there’s a bolt from the blue. Last night, Guinness unveiled her first single (on vinyl, no less), “Fatal Flaw,” at Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio in London’s Belgravia neighborhood—a fitting setting for the reveal, as Knight actually filmed and live-streamed Guinness singing opera last year. (The shoot resulted in five short films that were played in the windows of the French department store Printemps.) Yesterday evening’s event also served as the opening of SHOWcabinet, an intensely personal display case within the SHOWstudio gallery (consider it like an old-time curiosity cabinet) where artists present objects that have mattered throughout their lives.

Guinness is the first to take a turn in Knight’s SHOWcabinet, and the pieces on view indeed tell the story of her life: an ornate armored glove that she created over the span of five years in collaboration with Shaun Leane, a beloved Gareth Pugh leather cage jacket, and some works from Percy Bysshe Shelley and Shakespeare—her constant companions over the years.

Here, in an exclusive interview, Guinness and Knight speak with Style.com about why she decided to bare her soul—and her vocal chords.


Daphne, who knew you were a singer, and a soprano no less. Did you have any formal training?
Daphne Guinness: I wasn’t trained at all—I just made the song up, by mistake actually. If anything, I probably trained myself by listening over the years. I have a four-and-a-half-, nearly five-octave range. I probably should have had extra lessons as a child, as I am certain my family heard my potential, but I didn’t. I was in the choir as a schoolgirl, but really, it is all self-taught.

Why music now?
DG: After children, I had a break in my top range, as my diaphragm dropped because it naturally stretched out. I couldn’t make that jump to singing smoothly. Holding a note is a very difficult thing—you have to use your whole body to achieve a perfect pitch. So my singing languished a bit, but it has always been there. I know it sounds ridiculous when I say I am not a fashion person, because of course I am, but music has a complete effect on me, and the time was ripe to reacquaint myself with it. I suppose I am known for being very visual, but I realized that, for me, it’s all about sound.

Nick Knight: What is interesting is that very few people know that music and sound are really a fundamental part of you. But I do think there is a lot of crossover in the senses, especially with sound and sight. For instance, when I am creating an image, I am actually subliminally looking for a tone or sound, which I don’t hear, but see. So when I get a great picture, in fact I am hearing this perfectly harmonious sound. It’s almost like I am tuning one of my pictures like an instrument. So there is a lot of swap-over between the senses. Unfortunately, we are so conditioned to use one sense for one thing, when actually it is a whole mixture of senses at play in an artistic process.

Your single is called “Fatal Flaw.” Do you think you have one?
DG: Everyone has a fatal flaw—it’s universal. I suppose it’s been said that I am flawed because my lyrics are too personal, but I do think that anything that is real and comes from the soul would resonate with anybody. I think if a person can stand by their words—and not a lot can—and live true to themselves, it is OK, even important, to be personal. Everyone in life has been through certain things, and all I did was make life experiences rhyme through a song.

Why did you decide to put “Fatal Flaw” on vinyl?
DG: I missed vinyl! It is a very visual thing, and a person can actually see where the next track is coming from. I mean, you can literally feel the groove, and I do touch the records all the time. God knows I have scratched so many over the years. I also like vinyl because it doesn’t sound as tinny as the other stuff—that tinny-ness drives me mad. Vinyl can give real depth and a thicker sound.

Who is on your playlist now?
DG: The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Bach, Philip Glass, Ravi Shankar, some Chinese music, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen. [Laughs] I really don’t know anything past 1981.

Photo: Courtesy of SHOWstudio; cover shot by Nick Knight

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