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Daphne Guinness Wears Black For All The Best Reasons

Radar
Photographed by Michael Burk

Talking death and music with the high-society goth

Coming in from a stormy, wet New York City day, Daphne Guinness is immediately recognizable from across the room. Indeed, she may be one of the most photographed women in the fashion world—a street style star before any of us knew what Tumblr or Blogspot was, a perfect balance of extremes. Still, her platinum white hair with streaks of black; her small, thin frame towering on her signature heelless Noritaka Tatehanas; a gently posh English-raised demeanor mixed with her Irish-born frankness—she is what happens when both ends of the spectrum meet. Which is perhaps why she chose the evocative, but clashing, title of her first album to be Optimist In Black.

She sits down and we begin to immediately discuss death. It's something that fascinates her, as she has truly been surrounded by it, from her famous relationships to Isabella Blow and Alexander McQueen, to her own mother, to the looming passing of David Bowie, whose producer and longtime friend Tony Visconti assisted Daphne with her own album. “I don’t understand why I am here, dressed in black, while all my friends and all the people I’ve cared about are gone," she says, in a slightly melancholy manner. "They’ve made the exit, the shining light at the exit. But I remain an optimist dressed in black.”
 
In the early aughts, Daphne Guinness stood as a front-row fixture, the fashion person's fashion person, the high-society goth who helped jumpstart the career of Alexander McQueen and basically created the style that put Lady Gaga front and center. But with the one-after-another deaths of her famous friends, plus her brother, she has since retreated from the spotlight, returning to the passion she knew before she became a multi-hyphenate model/muse: Music. Guinness was accepted in the prestigious Guildhall School in the U.K. to study music, but she passed it up. “The best things that never happened was not going to music school. They would have ironed out all of those weird turns." The weirdness is what makes the music special. It is soaked in dramatics, demanding poetry, sweeping theatrics, and of course, darkness. 
 
Optimist In Black is truly listenable if not macabre, a curious, spiraling, and strangely catchy album, impeccably constructed. Yet, the whole thing feels like an exorcism of Daphne's own ghosts, peppered with her own lyricism. The title song, "Optimist In Black," is a truly difficult listen to anyone who has dealt with loss. "It’s not about it being a number one hit or even part of the industry," Guinness explains about her songwriting endeavor. "It’s a dark, dark, dark poem.” Like any dark poem, the album feels out of time, taking its DNA from Siouxsie And The Banshees, Nico, the depths of Nick Cave, with a distinct Visconti touch of glam rock. 
 
For anyone who is familiar with Guinness' trajectory, it is hard not to read her own personal narrative into her music. But, perhaps that's what so engaging about it. It feels like the work of someone who has played witness, who, as she says, "The only one left standing." But within that, she finds a bit of raucous hope, especially in songs like "Magic Tea" and the psych-fueled "No Armageddon." Remember; just because you are wearing black doesn't mean you are depressed. “Music should be fun—and everyone is dealing with heavy topics. Everybody’s got shit. Music is the only way out, I think. When everything goes wrong, write a song.” 

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Credits:
Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.