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Must-See: Daphne Guinness Exhibit at FIT

Daphne Guinness

Couldn’t make it to the Met for the Alexander McQueen exhibit?  Don’t fret because one of the most avid collectors of McQueen’s fashions, Daphne Guinness, has opened up her closet to the Fashion Institute of Technology for its latest exhibition Daphne Guinness. I recently stopped by to check out the exhibit, two years in the making, and was dumbfounded by each and every one of the garments and accessories on display.

The exhibit features 100 items, including dozens of McQueen pieces along with Christian Lacroix, Chanel, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Rick Owens, Valentino, Noritaka Tatehana, Gareth Pugh and some of Guinness' own designs. Many of the looks are styled on mannequins with manes made to mimic Guinness’ signature chignon and the exhibit is separated into six sections: Chic, Evening Chic, Exoticism, Armor, Dandyism, and Sparkle.

Alexander McQueen (including pieces from his namesake collection as well as some from his time at Givenchy), Gareth Pugh, and Karl Lagerfeld (via Chanel) are the designers featured most prominently. I was surprised to find a number of stunningly elegant, but rather minimalist (i.e. no feathers, sparkly beads, or hints of armor) pieces from designers like Azzedine Alaia. Further, along with works by some of the world’s most heralded designers, visitors can also see ones from up-and-comers like Hogan McLaughlin who designed the metal coat Guinness wore to the opening of her show.

Guinness only collects contemporary fashion; though the show notes state that everything in the exhibition was created between 1995 and 2011, specific dates are not given for each of the works. This is particularly bothersome as the exhibit includes a number of pieces that look as though they would have been created by the same designer – namely heel-less platform shoes – but are in fact from a variety of designers. It would have been enlightening to know who came up with the design first. Moreover, credit isn’t given to the jewelry or hats on display and it's not stated when a piece has been custom made for Guinness, and I happen to know a number of them were (for example, Massaro, an atelier famed for making the couture shoes for the house of Chanel, had pieces included in the exhibit).

Nevertheless, the mix of designers and the detail and sheer beauty of every single one of the piece in the collection is breathtaking. Most impressively, perhaps, is the fact that unlike most celebrities and wealthy socialites, Guinness told that she has never been given anything in her life: “Yeah, really. It’s so unfair — no, you know what’s good about it? I think that’s why I had close relationships with these [designers]; it’s because I wasn’t trying to use them. It was an equal thing. They knew I was in it for the right reasons and I knew they were in it for the right reasons. And, when you are a designer, a lot of these people don’t have any money. People think because they have a name that they have money, but they don’t. They put their heart and soul into it. They really do. A lot of people feel entitled about it and like they don’t have to give back. I find that so disrespectful to someone’s art, especially knowing how many hours of work they have put into it.”

Daphne GuinnessGuinness’ appreciation for fashion is abundantly clear and, according to F.I.T.'s Valerie Steele who curated the exhibit, she keeps a computer database of all of her clothes. Guinness is a fascinatingly elusive figure and it’s almost eerie to see her actually speak. The exhibit includes a video the fashion icon directed and a preview of one she produced in tribute to Alexander McQueen. Moreover, in light of a feature that recently appeared in the New Yorker, the heiress shot this video and it gives us a peek inside not only her approach to fashion, but her New York City apartment, which includes a hallway of mirrored walls that very likely inspired the mirrored walls and scrims in her exhibit.


Daphne Guinness at the Museum at F.I.T. in New York runs through January 7.