Ready to Wear: After a Long Flirtation, Art and Fashion Have Wed

Today’s confluence of art and fashion is perhaps defined best in the person of British heiress Daphne Guinness, prodigious collector of clothing and friend to McQueen and a handful of other avant-garde designers. Ms. Guinness is currently the subject of an exhibition at the museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology, which is filled with clothing from her wardrobe, including a number of pieces by McQueen.

The show features the same moody, dramatic lighting as the Met’s McQueen show. As Ms. Blum predicted, though, it feels like a letdown after the Met’s magisterial production, which was personally overseen by the designer’s production managers. How could F.I.T. possibly compete?

The opening reception for the event was pure mayhem: vertiginous heels, a man in a wedding dress, a woman in a bathrobe and leather boots. Not exactly the Chelsea gallery crowd. The Observer buttonholed Helene Verin, a shoe designer who is an internship counselor for accessories students at F.I.T. and asked her what we should make of Ms. Guinness, a woman famous for wearing clothes. “She serves a role,” she said. “She’s the muse.”

Ms. Verin was wearing an orange circular Hermès box on her head—a headpiece called a “fascinator,” as a tribute to Ms. Guinness, who has made the accessory one of her trademarks. Her dress and bag were also trimmed with the label’s trademark orange, and dotted with its logo. “Do you think it’s overdone?” Ms. Verin asked.

We mentioned that we typically cover art events. “Andy Warhol was my friend,” she told us. “He did my portrait.”

The invocation of Warhol seemed apt. Ms. Guinness and her compatriots embody the artist’s dictum about 15 minutes of fame to a degree that, again depending on your perspective, is horrifying or sublime, or both. Everyone is an artist, as Beuys said, and everyone is staring. Part of us wished we had dressed as ornately.

We asked the woman in bathrobe and boots, Elisa Goodkind, about her background. “I used to work in fashion, but now I work in style,” she told us. “One is an industry that is about selling, and the other is about soulfulness and self expression.”

Ms. Guinness, as it happens, has recently taken to referring to herself, on some occasions, as an artist. She makes videos—some are included in the F.I.T. show—and back in May she did a performance before the Met’s Costume Institute gala, in which she got dressed in a window of Barneys.

At the press conference on the morning after the opening, we asked Ms. Guinness which contemporary artists inspire her. She demurred. “I’m more of an Old Masters fan,” she said. “I love Old Master drawings, like Zurbarán and the Spanish masters.”

Ms. Guinness speaks softly and thoughtfully, with a perfectly pitched élan easily associated with aristocracy. “I like some contemporary art,” she continued, “but by no means all. It’s difficult to say contemporary artists off the top of my head, because I’m always going back to the past.”

What about her performance? “I sometimes get myself into situations in which the only way through it is to do a performance,” she replied. “To make things relevant in their context, to contextualize why they were done.” There is fashion, but sometimes one has no choice other than to make art.

arusseth@observer.com