It doesn’t take long to see why Daphne Guinness has earned her reputation as the fashion person’s fashion person. On a December afternoon at the Carlyle hotel in Manhattan, she floats into the tearoom atop towering custom Christian Louboutin platform wedges and dressed in a gray wool sheath of her own design that clings to her delicate frame. A birdlike, ethereal creature, she wears a simple but splendid antique diamond brooch, her upturned blond mane adorned with her signature black skunk streak.
Settling into a banquette, she sets down her capacious Hermès bag and summons a formerly invisible waiter, from whom she orders a pot of Lapsang souchong and a Red Bull. Informed the hotel doesn’t carry the high-octane beverage, she whispers for the concierge, who promptly dispatches a bellman to fetch it.
Little in Guinness’s life has been ordinary. The daughter of Irish brewing heir Jonathan Guinness, Lord Moyne, and French beauty Suzanne Lisney—and granddaughter of Diana Mitford, the celebrated aristocrat whose second husband was British fascist Sir Oswald Mosley—she and her brother, Sebastian, grew up in stately homes in Ireland and England and spent summers in an 18th-century former monastery in Cadaqués, on the Spanish coast near Barcelona, where the neighbors included surrealists Dalí and Man Ray. During her parents’ 41-year marriage, her father maintained a relationship with an Englishwoman with whom he had three children. Daphne, frequently alone, found solace in books.
At 19, in 1987, she married Spyros Niarchos, 12 years her senior and a son of the fabulously wealthy Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos. Surrounded by bodyguards and staff, she shuttled between the clan’s private island in Greece and their palatial residences in New York, Saint Moritz and elsewhere—usually on the family’s aircraft or their superyacht, Atlantis II. According to sources, Niarchos was a possessive and jealous husband, and Guinness became more restrained and conservative under the yoke of their marriage. Isolated in what a friend describes as “a Fabergé cage,” Guinness tried to escape the constrictions of her life through clothes. “I shopped a lot,” she recalls. But it was her unique way of putting things together that made her the dream client for many a designer. “Daphne amazes me all the time,” says Valentino. “When I think she has reached the best, then she comes up with something better.”
Guinness explains today that she’s always preferred to “inhabit clothes rather than wear them.” Nevertheless, say friends, the marriage to Niarchos shattered her self-esteem, which was not that strong to begin with. In 1999, after having three children with him (now 19, 17 and 13), she obtained a divorce and eventually a reported settlement of $40 million. Later she bought an 8,000-square-foot house in St. John’s Wood in London.