“Five days before she died she said she felt she didn’t matter anymore. This exhibition proves her wrong – she’s always going to matter now”– Philip Treacy
Head to toe in swathes of immaculate flesh-tight black that cascaded into a delicate train behind her, The Hon. Daphne Guinness effortlessly glided over to me in her gravity defying heel-less shoes with a lightness of grace I had never quite witnessed in another human being. Her personal hairdresser followed, teasing that trademark platinum blond and jet black duality into finalized perfection with two precise sprays of hair lacquer and a theatrical poke of his comb as she hung one deliberately asymmetrical diamond earring from her right lobe that fired off light rays of extreme clarity, heritage and glistening beauty.
‘Pint ‘o Guinness!’ she said disarmingly, pointing to her iconic pompadour up-do. I felt I laughed a little too hard at this, composing myself to say, with as much plausible calm as I could measure, ‘Oh, my god. You look STUNNING, Daphne…’
Her skin was translucent, glowing from within and as flawless as cream silk draped taut and pore-less upon her light bones of delicate porcelain and she brimmed with heady emanations of patchouli and tuberose as she came to rest at my side, cupping my elbow and lowering her gaze with an inquisitive peer at the picture I held in my hand.
I was holding my grandpa’s image pressed against my wallet by a clammy thumb, when I looked into the eyes of she whom I now considered a friend – there exists you see, a particular brand of adoration for a Rara Avis, that in the flesh, can unhinge even the hardest to impress of any neatly put together gay man. Yes, it was she whom I now held in such regard as to be the most inspirational person to have touched my wonder and hopes since my grandfather’s agonizing death years ago.
‘Oh, wow, your grandfather?’ she asked courtly as I circled his aura of bygone years under her watchful interest. ‘Yes, I brought him here with me’ I said, ‘he gives me courage…’
London, I must confide, had thus far been the intimidating seat of my life’s greatest and most cruel tormentors. Yet now Daphne filled my hopes with a renewed faith, pure as a child honing his truest wishes onto a polished penny destined for the bottom of a wishing well – with a belief in a magical realism that was absolute and spellbound.
‘Oh, Daphne, London terrifies me’, I said, almost pleading as I motioned to how I had dressed myself, ‘won’t they think I’m a pleb, and wonder why on earth you’ve invited me…?’
She took no time to think. ‘Are you kidding me… London should be afraid of you’ she insisted, firmly interrupting, ‘you’ll be the best dressed man there, and Issie would be proud!’ she said, quelling the voices of self-sabotage that always actuate punishing impressions of insignificance, trumpet my worthlessness, and impel fear into an already deeply tortured psyche at the worst times. ‘Best thing about London’, she said, ‘is getting the hell out of here.’ Quite the reassurance then – given that the evening ahead was to honor her late friend, the legendary editorial fashion maverick and aristocrat, Isabella Blow, who had adorned, edited or featured across all the magazines to have carried my coffee cup rings and daydreams since I first came to know of her, through The Sunday Times Style Magazines of the late nineties – where I wrote to my crush and writing inspiration, AA Gill, telling him all about my Cheshire frolics and pretensions, asking my favorite critic and good pal of Joan Collins, why he rarely reviewed anywhere outside of London. He didn’t reply direct – instead he took Jeremy Clarkson on a road-trip there, to rip the piss in the Culture supplement. Letting me know, ‘Joan Collins is just an actress’ which was humiliating in the extreme having opened up in writing – but a thrill non the less. He was, and still is – my favorite writer, wit and style, even if he thought me as mad as a hatter, for I was but a tender 20 years old.
Anyways, 33 now and still being very Un-London and having never had the wallet, inclination or indeed any notion of what to wear when asked to escort a global fashion icon to the launch of her own star-studded exhibition of Isabella’s couture – I thought only to hire a groomsman’s suit from a wedding supplier, and bull shine some old leather shoes.
It must have worked. Daphne complimented its stitching and silhouette, which placed me at ease a degree whilst my heart pulsed ferociously for the significantly terrifying night ahead, of chaperoning my empress to the private launch of ‘Fashion Galore’ at Somerset House, London —- and what better way to celebrate Issie’s supportive and authentic and pioneering personality, than with a new foundation in her name? Set up on the very day she would have turned fifty years old. Just marvelous!
‘I had them cinch my jacket in an inch too small.’ I said nervously changing the subject, lips dragging across arid teeth. My eyes too dry to blink, as Daphne’s narrowed warmly, knowing immediately, that such a tailoring tip came direct from her own book on sartorial style.
‘You are just brilliant, David!’ she announced as I nervously tugged at unfamiliar collar and cuffs. To me Daphne truly was an Empress, to my true-penny lowly jack of hearts, and I feared the level of bravery required… doubting how I could reach it, and overwhelmed that I had arrived in Mayfair, London, to the inner sanctum of an ultimate idol.
All of this was so outside of my ordinary life that I felt my mind might evaporate at any turn, when she said it… ‘but, David, just THAT…’ Daphne attested, ‘just your words on your grandfather and how you wrote me about Issie, I know your eloquence. Your letters to me conjure up whole new worlds. You should write a book!’
It was undeniable to me now that currents under the veil of life can work an ethereal logic, for it brought me (a boy raised in the shadow of a clanking and steaming chemical plant in industrial North East England) to the very apex of that same boy’s most unreachable dreams and fantasies. The impossible to reach fashion maven, socialite and heir to a brewing dynasty – my empress, muse, pen pal, friend and starlight, The Hon Daphne Guinness, believing in me… and in this manner? There was no ripping the piss here!
Was I there, at grandpa’s metaphorical horizon where seemingly to a child the world must surely end where the sky began? I wondered. Could she save me? Would her belief in me, help me save myself, and free me from my never ending punishments?
Indeed, we had bonded over music, high art and a sense of being an alien in this world, and I was there to help Daphne celebrate the life of her friend Isabella Blow. To honor her inimitable and authentic personality and influence on the worlds of fashion, art, and style that we both so loved, except I was no longer a spectator – I was involved.
‘Thank you for everything, and for being my friend.’ I said stood there, awake inside a dream, ‘you can’t know what it means to me, Daphne! Not with the horrors I’ve endured.’
‘I am not a flake…’ she said, and besides, my friend, this is only the beginning.’
‘Excuse me, Daphne,’ came a soft female voice from a handsome vestibule entrance. Calm, warm, and organised information delivered from a member of an immaculate and almost invisible household staff, ‘your car is waiting. Are you ready to leave?’
Daphne motioned to her assistants waiting at the drawing-room doorway, and with a nod of agreement, sudden activity ensued. Pillows plumped, an untouched platter of canapés was removed whilst I helped hang a regal black cloak across my empresses shoulders in anticipation of the bracing November air.
‘You are going to inspire people, you are a miracle…’ she said in a tone that indicated that she might say this only the once, ‘write your way out, David…’ she said, tilting her head and speaking with a sudden level of impatience, ‘I know you have it. I have seen your eye. Write your way out to a better life!’ – and so began, my cosmic evening with the eternal spirit and inspirations of the incomparable and utterly brilliant, Isabella Blow.
Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!