Daphne Guinness: 'I stood almost naked for six hours, being splashed with water'

The fashion muse and heiress on the stylish Mitford side of her family, her uniform of black and white and the deaths of Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow

This is the splash dress, a collaboration between the photographer Nick Knight and designer Iris van Herpen. It involved me standing on top of a pillar in my shoes, naked apart from a thong, being splashed with water for about six hours until there was a shot they could work with. Iris took the frame she liked, and she spent the next week creating the dress out of plastic, based on the picture. I was then shot in the dress by Nick. It was quite incredible making something so impermanent like water into a dress.

Iris worked at Alexander McQueen as an intern so she very much came out of that world. I would work quite closely with McQueen; he was my friend so he would go through all my things and take them apart and send them back to me in pieces. After the exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York in 2011 [showcasing Guinness’s clothing collection, including pieces by McQueen, who had died in 2010, and those originally owned by her friend Isabella Blow, who died in 2007], I decided I couldn’t deal with any more death and destruction. I sold half of my things and created a scholarship for students at Central Saint Martins. I had to change the end of the story.

As a child, I was always in a pair of corduroys and a T-shirt, climbing a tree. I suppose the Mitford side [of my family] was very stylish. I knew obviously my grandmother [Diana Mitford] and I met her sisters Debo and Decca [a journalist and civil rights campaigner]. She was discussing all of the things we are discussing now with racial inequality. What is so incredible is that they were all so different politically but they all shared something in their vernacular. There’s the same jokes.

My off-duty style is black and white. I can pull myself together very fast because I have a kind of uniform. Then it’s about accessorising – jewellery, or any old bit of ribbon or tat. In lockdown, I’m not really going out anywhere so I can’t quite remember how I did it, it was sort of spontaneous. I’m currently writing music [Guinness is now a musician] so I wear black and white, T-shirts and trousers.

My [signature] shoes [heel-less, with an oversized platform] came about after a shoot. I ripped my heel off because I couldn’t get up or down the volcano where we were shooting – the heel was getting stuck. Now, I have them made for me by shoemakers; I quite like having my shoes made one pair at a time. I feel that the future of fashion will be more sustainable. We all have to wear something because otherwise we’d be arrested, but I do think it would be much nicer to have fewer, more beautiful things that are made with more care.

Daphne Guinness’ new album Revelations is released on 14 August via Agent Anonyme/Absolute


Lauren Cochrane

The GuardianTramp

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