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Imagining Daphne

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From left, Guinness and Alexander McQueen in 2004; Guinness and Isabella Blow at the "When Philip Met Isabella" exhibition in 2002.   

Guinness’s father, the son of Diana Mitford (an aristocrat who was married to a British fascist and partly to whom Evelyn Waugh dedicated Vile Bodies), took her back to Ireland and England for the winters, though, and she found she didn’t fit in at school. “When there were little gangs at school around the head of the lacrosse team or whatever, wanting to be cool, I found that really depressing,” she says. “I’m most comfortable being by myself.” She was studying opera with plans to become a singer when, at 17, she began dating Spyros Niarchos, who was twelve years her senior. Guinness may be a fashion nun, but she’s one of the only women of that sort who manage to combine cartoonish attire with sex appeal. Seen around town last year with hotelier André Balazs, she’s dating the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, though he remains married. “I know sometimes I can come off like a lonely spinster in a tower,” she says. “That’s not me at all.”

In any case, she and Niarchos got married quickly, in 1987. “I fell in love,” she says. “I don’t know how. And then I was in Greece, in a different world, and very secluded.” The couple took their private plane and super-yacht, the Atlantis II, to travel among their homes in New York and St. Moritz, and on Spetsopoula, their private island 50 miles off the coast of Athens. Guinness bore three children, two of whom are now in their twenties. Niarchos didn’t like classical music, so she would put her headphones on to practice her singing. “I can remember the smell of the trees on the island,” she says. “I was quite used to being alone for extended periods, so I could read books and I didn’t see the time passing.”

The two separated ten years later, in a famously acrimonious divorce. “I was leading into nothing after that, and it was very scary,” she says. Her settlement from the divorce was reported at $40 million—“People thought it was a lot more than it was, though it was a lot,” she says—but instead of counting her winnings, she enrolled in clown-and-bouffon school in London, under Philippe Gaulier, who trained under Jacques Lecoq and taught Sacha Baron Cohen. “I had gone to a couple dinner parties and realized, This is not the way that I build a new life,” she says. “I wanted to be around a different kind of person. I wanted to be around artists.” Isabella Blow was one of the first fashion people to take an interest in her, hiring her as a model and stylist. They bonded at the 90th-birthday party for Guinness’s great aunt, a marchioness, at which Daphne was dressed as a “funeral pony,” she says. “I had lots of plumes.”

“I just think the world’s gone completely mad, with everyone wearing the same things.”

Guinness talks in long, articulate skeins, but when the topic of Blow comes up, she begins to stammer a bit. “She was absolutely obsessed with killing herself—she didn’t talk about anything else,” says Guinness. “You’d get into a taxi and she’d start talking to the taxi driver about it. Everybody tried to bring her around, even Alexander McQueen.” She looks out the window. “She drank weed killer, can you believe that? It’s the most painful death. Right away, it starts eating at your stomach, and it takes about 24 to 36 hours to die.” She shakes her head. “The first time she tried it, she jumped off a bridge and landed on top of a car, breaking both of her legs. I went to see her in this terrible hospital near the bridge, and she was being so funny in her gold jumpsuit, putting the other patients into stitches.”

Blow left her collection, made up of 90 outfits by McQueen as well as dresses by John Galliano and Philip Treacy hats, to her sisters. She had debts, and her family had no choice but to put the lots up for auction. “They didn’t want to do it, but they had to, and I thought to myself, ‘Well, hang on a second,’ ” Guinness says. “I talked to a lot of people about whether I should do it or not, because I didn’t want to look greedy or grand, but I had a sick feeling when I found out where they were headed.” She was fearful of Blow’s clothes becoming dispersed, or the auction turning into a circus, with every new pop star at the shows wearing her hats next season. “It just didn’t feel right for people to look at something so intimate of hers,” she says. When she made up her mind, she called Blow’s sister Julia. “I think they thought I just wanted to pick a few things on my own,” she says. “And I said, ‘No, no, this is about keeping everything.’ ”


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