The Life of a Style Icon: New Yale book reveals the real Daphne Guinness

Today sees the opening of the eagerly anticipated Daphne Guinness exhibition at the FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York, which follows hot on the heels of the blockbuster Alexander McQueen show at the Met. This new exhibition is also accompanied by a beautiful book from Yale. But who is Daphne Guinness, and why does she hold such sway in the fashion world?

This is a thrilling day for fashion lovers. London Fashion Week, one of the ‘Big Four’ fashion events of the year, opened this morning, kick-starting a plethora of shows and presentations at Somerset House and other venues across the city.

Over the Atlantic, a similarly sensational fashion show is about to open its doors in New York. Daphne Guinness, the international style icon, will today open her wardrobe to eager visitors at the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum. The exhibition will feature around 100 garments and accessories from Guinness’ personal collection, including designs from the likes of Alexander McQueen, Azzedine Alaïa, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, John Galliano for Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Rick Owens, Gareth Pugh, and Valentino. A veritable who’s-who of the big players in fashion. Guinness’ own designs will also be on display, as will a series of films, videos, and images, of and by the fashion queen.

Daphne Guinness will need no introduction to avid fashion followers, but the uninitiated might be asking: who is she, and why is she so influential in the fashion world? According to designer and film director Tom Ford, ‘she is one of the – if not the – most stylish women living’. From her platinum-and-black striped hair to her towering 10-inch heels, her to-die-for couture collection and amazing diamond jewellery, Daphne Guinness embodies the rarified, personal style of a true fashion icon, and is an inspiration to designers across the world.

The Life of a Fashion Muse

Daphne Guinness was born in 1967, the daughter of brewery heir, Jonathan Guinness and French beauty, Suzanne Lisney. Her paternal grandmother was Diana Mitford, one of the legendary Mitford sisters. In 1987, at the age of nineteen, Daphne married Spyros Niarchos. After her divorce in 1999, Daphne resumed her maiden name, and over the past decade has emerged on the world’s stage an extraordinary fashion creature.

Designers may be responsible for the latest fashion trends, but they do not create in isolation. Although designers propose new looks, in order for something to become fashionable, to move off the runway and into real life, it has to be taken up by various fashion insiders, including editors, photographers, retailers, and fashion trendsetters.

The fashion or style icon is a special type of fashion insider, someone who is far more than an “early adopter” or celebrity clothes horse. The fashion icon not only inspires fashion designers and validates their clothes, but actually creates a look that affects the way other people dress and/or think about dressing. Michelle Obama, Kate Moss, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lady Gaga, Rachel Zoe, Alexa Chung, Carine Roitfeld, and Daphne Guinness are often described as fashion or style icons. When historical figures are included, Jacqueline Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Edie Sedgwick, and Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel are frequently mentioned.

Vanity Fair journalist, A.A. Gill, argued that “[Daphne Guinness] has never had a look, never once, never remotely, that was anyone’s but her very own.” This individualism, often described as eccentricity, is at the heart of Daphne’s appeal.

Daphne Guinness in her own words

To accompany her New York exhibition Yale University Press has published Daphne Guinness, a beautiful book which can act as a companion piece to the exhibition, or a definitive stand-alone Daphne Guinness book in its own right.

In an extended interview with the show’s curator, fashion historian Valerie Steele, Daphne Guinness explains the origins and characteristics of her style. She also discusses her friendships and collaborations with other creative fashion personalities from the late Isabella Blow to the photographer Steven Klein and the jeweller Shaun Leane. Sumptuously illustrated with both high-fashion photographs and paparazzi shots, the book is a spectacular showcase for the world of a true style icon.

Valerie Steele books on offer from Yale: Throughout September Yale is offering a discount on selected books byValerie Steele, in celebration of the publication of her new book on Daphne Guinness. Valerie Steele is director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT, New York, and is a prominent fashion icon, journalist and collector of haute couture. This offer is only available for a limited time (ends 30 September 2011). Take a look at the complete list of books on offer on Yale’s UK website, then enter the code STYLE at the checkout stage to claim your discount.

The Daphne Guinness exhibition at the Museum, FIT runs from 16 September 2011 to 17 January 2012.
Daphne Guinness, the accompanying book by Valerie Steele is available now from Yale University Press.

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