Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
“Daphne Guinness” at FIT

Lacroix jacket, Daphne Guinness Collection, Courtesy of the Museum at FIT

“A true bird of paradise,” my friend exclaimed as we were both admiring Daphne Guinness going up Madison Avenue bras à bras with her companion, French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy, on a frigid Friday afternoon late last January. I have witnessed their indulgently unhurried stroll up Madison Avenue several times as our lives cross momentarily in New York City’s bizarre social jumble.

Daphne, an heiress to the Guinness (as in Guinness Beer) family fortune and formerly married to Spyros Niarchos (one of the last shipping Greek tycoons), is famous on her own merit. A creative presence within her world of chosen artists, an artist herself, Daphne is a fashion icon like no other. She has style and a point of view. That bird of paradise is no fashion victim. She is a modern muse to many a talented designer and artist. The announcement of her collaboration with fashion’s über curator Valerie Steele in creating a retrospective of Daphne’s contributions to fashion had me anticipating the show’s opening to the public on September 16 impatiently.

When the doors to the exhibit “Daphne Guinness” opened at 12 noon today, I was there. The show, housed at the lower level of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, was organized by Daphne Guinness, fashion scholar and Museum at FIT curator Valerie Steele, and with Fred Dennis. For details on the exhibit that will be on view through January 7, 2012 visit the Museum’s website at

The introductory gallery features a selection of Daphne’s shoes along with video clips on fashion, clothing, and body perception either by her or on her. The main gallery is divided in six sections: Dandyism, Armor, Chic, Evening Chic, Exoticism, and Sparkle. Each section comprises several outfits bringing the total count for this particular show to about 100 garments. Two additional videos are projected in the gallery, which is lined with mirrors and minimally lit, to provide maximum effect for the outfits arranged on the platforms. It works.

Each section tells a story and yet remains totally coherent with the rest of the exhibit. While one will recognize several names of famous couturiers, including Alexander McQueen whose creations Daphne clearly favors, what is strikingly powerful is the eloquence of self-expression that comes forth with every outfit Daphne has put together. As a passionate collector with a particular point of view, Daphne has amassed a wealth of contemporary material culture testimony to her elegant and catalytic presence within the world of fashion. She patronizes young talent long before they become famous and continues to support them in fame without compromising her own point of view.

What this show articulates so clearly is that collecting fashion requires knowledge of art and respect for craftsmanship, qualities that are necessary for a meaningful collection to take form. If not to admire the dazzling outfits or vertiginous shoes, visit this show to reflect on the power of Daphne’s creative personality and her sharp sensorial connections to the world. This combination is the oil to the fire that breeds new talent.

© Thomaï Serdari