Daphne Guinness | Thus Spake Zarathustra, And the Lunar Love Was Ever the Richer

Via the 25th Anniversary Issue, Under the Silver Moon

Written by

Photographed by

David LaChapelle

Styled by

Colleen Atwood

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Left to right: CELIA KRITHARIOTI top, bottoms, and headpiece. Daphne wears COLLEEN ATWOOD tuxedo and hat and DAPHNE GUINNESS earrings and rings.

Some are born to sweet delight, some are born to endless night, as the mystical poet William Blake was wont to opine, but there are also those among us who are born to the plain weird—freaks of nature whose lives genuinely slot neatly into the ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ category. Perhaps chief amongst those in the contemporary realm is the quintessential English eccentric Daphne Guinness—the aristo-musician, model-muse, and quite often cloven-hoofed avant-garde designer, who blazes across the cultural radar occasionally like some opalescent entity beamed in from another dimension.

The clipped and outspoken member of the Guinness dynasty— and descendent to the aristocratic Mitford estate—has lived a number of lives in her 56 years on this planet, and none of them normal: growing up around the likes of Salvador Dalí, modeling for Alexander McQueen, working with the late-Karl Lagerfeld, being shot by David LaChapelle and Nick Knight, hanging out with the creative demigod David Bowie... the list goes on, and on. In fact, it was Bowie who first encouraged Daphne Guinness to make use of her innate musical talents some fourteen years ago, introducing her to the legendary producer Tony Visconti, who has helmed all of her offerings thus far, including her fourth and perhaps most ambitious album to date, Sleep.

This latest musical transmission distills Guinness’ life experience into a heady elixir of personal trauma, apocalyptic socio-political musings, and a takedown of late capitalism that provides a clarion call for empathy and human connection in the face of what seems to be the inevitable destruction of our species. It’s a masterfully layered and poetic evocation of optimism and hope where there could so easily be despair, and a glittering sonic telex of paradox—a kind of heavy yet insouciant intellectual disco ball that scatters light into some of the darkest corners of the human experience. And make no mistake, for all of its danceability, the record traverses some very uncomfortable terrain, from unfettered political greed and lust for power on the likes of “Love And Destruction,” to imminent societal collapse and deeply personal childhood trauma; the song “Solitaire,” in particular, bravely recounts an experience of abuse and being held at knifepoint at just five years old. Here, the fashion sphere’s most bedazzling kook talks exclusively to FLAUNT about overcoming psychological demons, the unparalleled healing power of love, and finding the cosmic thread in a universe of random sequential chaos and elusive moons.

DAPHNE GUINNESS catsuit, earrings, and rings.

Sleep is quite layered and poetic, and seems to me to be looking at the human experience as a microcosm of the macrocosm. It’s a big first question, but do you think of the individual human soul in that way?

Absolutely. The album is very much about broad brush strokes, but then zooming right in. This has been said before, and it sounds like a cliche, but we are connected on so many different vibrational levels. The soul is a very interesting notion, and to me it is a kind of moving spherical thing that definitely exists, and exists in everything. I can sort of see it sometimes in people and kind of feel it in myself.

What I always attempt to do when I sing is to be as true to whatever it is that’s sort of coming in on a feeling level—it’s sort of like having something drawn in invisible ink, and slowly it gets washed away and the ink becomes more apparent and it all slots together. I try to be as authentic as possible in my songwriting, and I do have to kind of hold myself back from trying to fit too many ideas into a song. I’m often thinking, actually, ‘Who’s going to care about these concepts?’ But I never go into a song thinking about who’s going to listen to them—I’m just trying to get the song done.

Do you think grand intellectual themes are somewhat missing from popular music today?

I think so. I remember going to see Bob Dylan about four years ago in Hyde Park, and he’s such an incredible intellect and brilliant writer, and I kind of wanted him to stand up and say something really deep, because we’re living in such serious times, but he just didn’t. I mean, it is lovely to have light music that makes you feel good, but I do wish more people would confront some of these themes.

There’s an apocalyptic motif running throughout the record—a sense of our species being on a precipice.

The apocalyptic theme has been going on for a bit (laughs). I suppose it’s all sort of gothic and dark, but I am attempting to approach these notions in a way that says they are fun too. I mean, you can kind of laugh at the darkness. The song “Love And Destruction,” for example, is kind of based on several writings of Nietzsche, and to me he’s just so extremely funny. I mean, people take Nietzsche very seriously, but I can tell that he’s having a laugh—it’s all quite humorous when you look at it properly. I do try to be responsible about my words, though, and I work on them very hard because I know that poems or lyrics can be construed in many different ways. I try to look at things from every angle, sometimes maybe too much.


The record looks both backwards and forwards. I wonder, from the vantage point you’re at in your life now, whether you’re fatalistic, or you believe in random sequential chaos...

I think a bit of both. I think there are always several paths to choose. This is going to sound weird, but when we had come to the end of the recording period on my second album, I was severely ill for a long time. I just kept going, though, because I didn’t want to be a crybaby, and because I tend to overwork. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I ended up having to have a really big operation, in which

I died for about a minute. I had one of those experiences where I could go into this extraordinary kind of... well, I can’t describe it in words, although it was very much like what you hear about when people talk about lights and the afterlife, but it was more than light, more than sound.

It was like a feeling where there is a decision that you have to make—you can either go that way, or you can go back because you’ve got unfinished business. That experience definitely changed the way I look at things. There is the randomness, for sure, but sometimes when you think things are chaotic, you then sort of find a thread. It’s very similar to when you are trying to write a song— you sometimes feel you’ve hit a sweet spot and are in this kind of stream, which is so wonderful that you don’t want it really to end. It’s like tuning into the cosmic thread.

One of the lyrics that jumped out at me from the record, which I thought was lovely, was this idea that we have this precious thing in life that you refer to as an ‘instant of trust’—do you think hope lies in people becoming more open to the phenomenology of the present moment?

Absolutely. And that song is one that is very close to my heart. It really flowed out of me. I do think things could be better if people trusted each other, and I wish people would be kinder to each other. That track is actually one of the videos that I did with David [LaChapelle], and what was so incredible was that when we were wrapping the last shot, everybody started crying and laughing and hugging each other and broke into a kind of spontaneous dance. It was just so beautiful, and it went on and on. I think that song does make me feel quite good about things. I mean, I know it’s been said many times—by The Beatles, most famously—but, at the end of the day, love is all you need, and that’s the goal, really.

What would you say has shaped your value system as a human being over the years?

That is quite a big question! I’ve had such a strange life, and a life of such contrasts. I had this very bohemian kind of upbringing— instead of toys, I had books, and I had my imagination. The magical part of my childhood was living in Cadaques in Spain for two or three months a year, because of Dalí and all of the painters and artists that lived there—that was quite incredible and wonderful, and sort of free. We had very little electricity there, so I became quite good at sort of navigating my way around in the pitch black, or walking for miles and finding my way back without a torch. I became a very good little survivor, and I haven’t really changed very much since then. I suppose I would say that friendship is a huge thing for me, and I’m very good at sort of going into battle for other people, but maybe not so much for myself. I think that for many years I was too trusting of people, but I’ve learned to sort of keep myself a little bit more in—and to try to be a little quieter and sort of just contemplate. I can kind of do that thing octopuses do, where they throw out a lot of ink to obscure everything, but inside I try to keep it all pretty zen.

You’ve been described in so many ways over your career, and are seen by some as a cultural icon. How would you define or describe yourself as an artist?

I think I just kind of gravitate towards things. I always feel like I’m at the beginning, and forget how much I’ve actually done. In the case of music, I still feel like there is a lot to learn. It sounds ridiculous after fourteen years of recording, but every day I approach music with an open mind; every day is kind of a revelation. I can apply that to fashion too. I didn’t train in fashion. I’m pretty good at designing, and I know how to cut things—where things should sit, and all of that—but I wouldn’t call myself a professional at all. I have lots of friends in fashion, but I’ve always been slightly behind the scenes, and maybe a little bit detached from the fashion world. It’s a wonderful thing to have that, though, and then bring that into the music.

The record is deeply personal in places. The song “Solitaire,” in particular, reflects on a very traumatic experience in your childhood—what was cathartic in going to that place for you?

It was something that was buried very deep. I should probably have been sent to a doctor and a psychiatrist after that experience, but, at the time, no one wanted to even talk to me about any of that. It was ignored, and brushed under the table. I mean, the idea at the age of five, you are left with a schizophrenic who has a psychotic break—you never get that experience out of your head. I remember being held at the front of the house with the knife at my neck and him holding me. I was pretty badly wounded, and I felt isolated by the whole thing—he actually stabbed his mother to death the next day. It’s a massive and heavy song, but when the words came tumbling out of me, it was almost like an exorcism. I kind of curled up and all of my hair went on end. It was quite extraordinary. He ended up in Rikers Island, but on some deep level, I was always scared he would come and get me one day. The song got that out of me in a way where I could actually think, ‘Okay, this is all right. I’m not afraid.’

In what way do you hope your music will engage an audience?

I hope to sort of envelop people in wonder. I know my songs are all in rather minor keys, and they do sort of gravitate into the more melancholy thing. But actually, to me a major chord sometimes sounds or feels more depressing. I don’t know why, but I am very drawn to Eastern chords, which sound to me like they have much more ambiguity. I love that wonderful Charles Ives piece “The Unanswered Question,” because the question will always be unanswered but you can attempt to chisel away at it in the physical realm with art and music. I’m not sure if all contemporary artists are reaching for the universal at the moment, though. It’s a very confusing time in art, and I think the grim bottom line, as ever, has a lot to do with it.

You talk a lot about greed and capitalism on the song “Love And Destruction”—Where would you place yourself in a political paradigm?

God. It’s very difficult. Because all politics leads to violence in the end. I’m very suspicious of anybody who wants power, but people love it, apparently. I attempt to have enough power over myself to sort of do my daily routine and achieve small things every day.
I think capitalism should be reined in, for sure, but communism doesn’t work, as we know, and fascism certainly isn’t the answer. I think overall that when human beings decided they were God it all took a bit of a wrong turn. We can’t put humans above nature. I mean, as species, we can integrate very well in nature, but that requires a more ancient and indigenous way of looking at the world. 

There is almost a sense of finding joy in an endgame for the species on the record…

Yes, that’s true. That’s exactly what it’s about, because there is an endgame. It feels like we are living through the end of something, and it does feel like we’re in very, very strange times indeed. But I think the way through all of that is to try and make something beautiful out of it, or describe it, because there is always a way of extracting beauty out of even the ugliest thing, and that paradox is wonderful. We are on the edge of many catastrophes, but we are human beings and we need to bind ourselves together in these bleak moments—what is truly beautiful is kindness. 


Photographed and Directed by David LaChapelle

Styled by Colleen Atwood

Written by John Paul-Pryor

Wardrobe Assist: Bryan Kopp

Cinematography: Jo Willems

Stills from Video: Luca Pizzaroni

Prod Designer: Annie Sperling

Hair Stylist: Larry McDaniel

Makeup: Kabuki

Producer: Coleen Haynes


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Flaunt Magazine, Issue 190, The 25th Anniversary Issue, Under the Silver Moon, Daphne Guinness, David LaChapelle, Colleen Atwood, People, Sleep, CELIA KRITHARIOTI, COLLEEN ATWOOD, DEBORAH MILNER, DIOR, CHANEL HAUTE COUTURE, BALENCIAGA, VALENTINO HAUTE COUTURE, CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN