As one of the handful of women in the world who can actually afford haute couture, you've probably spotted Daphne Guinness' outfits before you knew her name. Her fantastical, elaborate and spectacular oufits are the stuff of legend, even earning their own exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology in 2011. While many try to brush off Guinness' signature style as mere peacocking, her fierce individual spirit and intelligence undercut such criticisms.
Born November 9, 1967 Daphne Diana Joan Susanna Guinness carries English and Irish ancestry - and is a direct descendant of Arthur Guinness (creator of the infamous Irish stout) and the infamous Mitford sisters. Thanks her family's immense fortune, she enjoyed an idyllic childhood, spending summers in her family's estate in Spain's Cadaqués, where her neighbours were artists like Salvador Dali, Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp. "There was this idea of [it] being a kind of haven, away from the dealers, the galleries, all of these things," says Guinness of the artistic hideaway. "It was like a Spanish Wuthering Heights."
While Guinness was certainly aware of her privileged status, her aristocratic roots and upbringing were occasionally a source of embarrassment. "I wanted to conceal myself," she says, a sentiment that undercuts the relationship she would later have with fashion. "Fashion sort of grew out of that because first of all it was concealing yourself and then it was being able to spot your tribe, at school or at nightclubs," she says. "You were either a punk or new romantic or something. I was more of a punk." For Guinness, who once held dreams of becoming an opera singer, being a punk was less about rebellion and more to do with hiding an extremely sensitive nature.
By the time Guinness was in her late teens, it was commonplace for her to be mixing with the socially elite. So it's perhaps unsurprising that she ended up marrying Spyros Niarchos, one of the sons of billionaire Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos, in 1987. "I married at 19," she says. "That's young, isn't it? It was madness but that's love for you." While the couple had three children together, they divorced in 1999.
In the years following her divorce, Guiness' fashion credentials blossomed and she collaborated on a variety of projects, including a self-titled clothing line, a perfume with Comme des Garcons, being the face of Nars make-up, as well as dabbling in countless film, art, fashion and philanthropic ventures. Aside from a couture wardrobe worth millions, Guinness is notorious in the fashion industry for being both a champion and muse for Alexander McQueen (and more recently Gareth Pugh). But it was her close relationship with the late, great eccentric Isabella Blow that spurned her legendary decision to buy Blow's entire clothing collection when it was put up for auction after her 2007 suicide.
With a life lived largely in the spotlight, it's no wonder Guinness' personal life (such as her controversial affair with married French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy), as well as her wardrobe choices, attract headlines. Often labelled a socialite or heiress in Britain's social pages and the world's glossiest magazines - Guinness is too widely read, creative and fiercely intelligent to be summed up so simply. Even despite her status as fashion's most flamboyantly dressed, she has a fairly ambivalent attitude towards the industry itself. "Fashion, actually... I don't find that very interesting. The idea of being able to transform yourself because we can, because we are human beings, that's interesting," she says.