A great article about her from the Telegraph.co.uk
Daphne Guinness walks into the café of a west London art gallery and all heads turn. She is certainly quite extraordinary-looking – terribly tiny, like a fledgling, with thin little legs balancing on top of skyscraper heels. She is wearing virtually sprayed-on black latex leggings, a regency-esque shirt with a tall collar that she designed herself for her clothing label, a black Balmain jacket with pointy shoulder pads that looks as if it is out of Star Trek, deep red nail varnish, funky sunglasses and huge amounts of glittery diamanté jewellery.
She sighs as she sits down, her delicate face falling in sadness. 'Love is agony, isn't it?' she says. 'I've been involved with someone for some time now but it's all so complicated. It's never straightforward is it? You meet someone, you fall in love, it's the most wonderful thing ever but… There's always something that's not quite right about love, isn't there?'
She is, I think, referring to the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy. Guinness has been rumoured to have been seeing him for a few years now and, though she doesn't refer to him directly, the couple have been reportedly spotted out and about in New York together, where Guinness now lives. But Lévy is married to the French actress Arielle Dombasle and they are considered a celebrity couple in their homeland.
'There is no hope,' says Guinness. She gets up and goes to the café counter and asks for a Red Bull. 'No Red Bull,' she says plaintively. Then she sits down again, and continues. 'I must see the good in this. Everything is a learning experience so… I'll learn.'
It turns out that she has spent the past decade or so of her life learning, ever since she and her husband, Spyros Niarchos, son of the über-rich shipping magnate Stavros, split up in 1999. She was said to have received a settlement of $40 million, but, she tells me, that was misleading: 'People always assume I don't need to work for money but my divorce settlement was not as much as it's always reported to be.' Before her marriage she grew up part of the Guinness dynasty, then found herself toing and froing on private jets and yachts with her husband and their three children, Nicolas, 20, Alexis, 18, and Ines, 14.
Now she is plain 41-year-old Daphne Guinness, only nothing about Daphne Guinness is plain. She is a rather exotic creature, inhabiting the kind of fashionable bohemian world where everyone is creating something all the time. In her world people like Karl Lagerfeld Twitter that 'florals are for middle-aged women with a weight problem.
In Daphne Guinness land, people do wear black leather high-heeled platform boots on an average day. She knows endless photographers, including David LaChapelle and Steven Klein, and finds designers 'fascinating'.
Contrary to popular perception, she is not a muse to anyone. She tells me that she'd be perfectly happy to be a muse to a designer, as Amanda Harlech is to Karl Lagerfeld, say, but that no one has ever asked her. She does, however, have many designers who admire her – Valentino said of her, 'Daphne amazes me all the time. When I think she has reached the best, she comes up with something better.'
Because of her glamorous connections and contacts, she is at every launch, every fashion show, every party almost worldwide. There is something that edges her above other socialites, but what is it that makes Guinness special? No one really knows exactly what she does, but everyone knows who she is.
It's not just her look – even though her blonde and black skunk-like hair is her trademark. 'I never meant it to be like this,' she says, tugging on it. 'I just glue bits on to it and this is how it turns out.'
Perhaps we are intrigued by all the pies she has her fingers in. She studied art at the Slade, nearly became an opera singer, dabbled in writing and became obsessed with classical music. She is described as being a designer, stylist, writer, filmmaker, collector and now a perfumer with a scent called Daphne. But, in Guinness-world, people like her don't just create a perfume, they also make a film to accompany it, due to be screened at the launch of her perfume in September. 'I think mostly in visuals,' she says by way of explanation.
Guinness has created her scent in collaboration with Comme des Garçons. She has known the company's president, Adrian Joffe, for a long time and the perfume happened naturally – Joffe suggested the collaboration at a lunch they had together. I ask her if it smells the way she does. To me, she smells of patchouli oil and incense sticks, maybe burning in a church. 'Yes that's it!' she says. 'I love the smell of churches and of clay and moss. I like earthy smells. I love amber and tuberose.' She dismisses most perfumes, describing being sprayed with scent in a department store as 'disgusting', like being covered with mosquito repellent. She started making perfume for herself by experimenting with essential oils mixed with an alcohol base. 'I just couldn't find anything I liked,' she says. 'So I thought I'd make my own. I'm wilful in that way.'
She tells me that she has always been wilful – a trait perhaps explained by the fact that she's from a sprawling family (she has one brother and six half-siblings). Born in 1967, the daughter of the brewery heir Jonathan Guinness and the French beauty Suzanne Lisney, she was brought up in England and Ireland, holidaying in Spain every summer. Her father, who now lives in Gloucestershire and to whom she is 'very close', had three children with his first wife, Daphne and Sebastian with Lisney (who died two years ago
of lung cancer), and three children with his English mistress. 'Complicated,' says Guinness. 'We are an interesting family that way.'
Guinness left home early. 'I married at 19,' she says. 'That's young, isn't it?' It was partially, she says, because she wasn't that bothered about school, but mostly because she fell in love. 'It was madness,' she says, 'but that's love for you. I was headstrong and very much in love and I couldn't see any reason not to marry.'
After this came what friends and family call her 'Fabergé-egg years'. She was surrounded by immense wealth and wanted for nothing – except, perhaps, more contact with the outside world.
'I think that's a bit strong,' she protests mildly. 'But it's true, I didn't get out very much. We were either travelling or I was being a mother. Then again, I needed
to get over my family so I did what I had to do…' She and Niarchos travelled the world – 'It was St-Tropez one day, a yacht the next, then New York, Paris' – accompanied by bodyguards everywhere they went.
The upshot of this rather sheltered existence was that she didn't really keep in touch with anyone. In fact, she claims not to have seen her friends and family for 15 years by the time she and Niarchos separated. 'Suddenly I had to start all over again and it was very frightening. It was like coming out of a time capsule.' There was, however, a salvation. 'I found, at that time, that fashion became an extension of self.' She started to put clothes together in her own eclectic way when she was with Niarchos, and amassed a vast collection of designer pieces.
Once they had separated, she started going to fashion shows and parties and was finally in a world where she could express herself in clothes, and her outfits were celebrated. Lévy best summed it up, she tells me, when he observed, 'You are no longer a person, you have become a concept.'
She'd never had a job or earned her own money until the divorce. 'I wasn't even that well educated,' she says. 'I read books obsessively. I love books and classical music and politics. In fact, I love everything but sport.' Yet it is still almost impossible to say exactly what Guinness actually does. She herself says she does 'ideas'. 'I think of things and then I tell my friends and they create them.' What type of things, I ask her. 'Oh, I thought of these shoes and now my friend makes them.'
And what friends she has made! She met Isabella Blow at the 90th birthday party for her cousin, Maureen, the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava. Blow, the famously eccentric fashion stylist, who committed suicide in 2007, saw a kindred spirit in Guinness because she was wearing a hat shaped like a cathedral. The two became friends and used to help each other on fashion shoots. 'I loved her,' Guinness says. 'I miss her every day. I cannot believe she is not here. She was so generous and so very funny.'
Guinness was also friends with Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic Records, and even knew Andy Warhol. 'My sister Catherine worked for him. He was very shy but very dry.'
Hanging out with household names is nothing new for Guinness. Most of her summers growing up were spent in an 18th-century pile in Cadaqués, a Catalan fishing village loved by the art crowd. Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and Richard Hamilton were regular guests. As a child, though, she had no real concept of who Man Ray was. 'I just thought he was our neighbour,' she says.
Her own family is almost as well known. Her grandmother, on her father's side, was Diana Mitford, whose second husband was Sir Oswald Mosley, the anti-Semitic head of the British Union of Fascists.
'While Diana was alive I never read any books about her. Every time I do now I feel horrified because what I read seems different to the person I knew… She was unbelievably nice, warm, friendly and most extraordinary. She was the biggest influence in my life, so I find it all very complicated and very sad. I have spent my life trying to piece together that puzzle. I wish I could figure it out.'
She says she wasn't really aware of her step-grandfather's past until his death. 'I was 13 and it was on the news. I was bullied at school after that, but my grandmother fell in love with him.'
Guinness says she has spent the past few years trying to become more active in discouraging racism and prejudice of any kind. 'I can't understand it when people are closed-minded. I mean, boy, have I made mistakes and been very wrong. I can't tell you the amounts of times I've been let down, but I still try to see the best in people. My aim is to help people in desperate situations. I spend my life telling myself there is surely more I can do.'
Last year she auctioned 1,000 designer items bought during her marriage. She raised $158,000 for Womankind, a charity that deals with the political and domestic abuse of women worldwide. 'I wanted to sell those dresses,' she says. 'They represented a part of my life that I'm not proud of. I don't want to go into it more than that. I just thought that if I could use them to make other people happy it might readdress the nightmare.'
At the moment she feels as if she is drifting somewhat – between continents and stages in her life. After her divorce she bought a huge house in St John's Wood but recently sold it.
'My eldest son is in his second year at Yale,' she says. 'When my other two children are not at boarding-school, they are with their father in New York.
I miss them, but I look at them now with astonishment and pride. They are open and wonderful.'
She has a flat on Fifth Avenue to be near them. 'I am here, there and everywhere.' She then tells me that a few years ago she tried to buy back her childhood home in London. As she talks about it, I realise that the house she grew up in is the one where I spent my teenage years.
'Oh my God,' she says. 'Your father bought it from my father!' She then describes the house in minute detail, from the nursery at the top to the swing in the back garden. 'I lived up the top of the house and stuffed toys up the chimney!' She then looks upset. 'I loved that house,' she says.
She tells me before I leave that her life is like slipping on banana skins. 'You can't be objective about your life, can you? Life is full of banana skins. You slip, you carry on. I have to look forward, you see, not back. There lies madness.'
The weird thing is, after we have parted, I can still smell her. I keep getting whiffs of her in my car and on a paper napkin from the café I had put in my bag. My only conclusion is that Daphne Guinness is just a person who lingers – maybe that's what makes her special. Everything about her is memorable; not just this powerful smell of patchouli but her low and level voice, her serious hazel eyes, her rather delicate prettiness.
And, as I drive home, I think of her there in that house we both knew so well, in that small and remote top room with the bars on the windows stuffing her cuddly toys up the chimney, and it makes me feel sad for her. I'm just not sure why.