By  on August 13, 2010

On the surface, Daphne Guinness is stunningly intense and intensely artistic. But underneath her couture armor, this brewery heiress, muse, model and fashion icon is frank, philosophical and fun. This fall, François Nars will introduce a line of vividly colored cosmetics inspired by Guinness (his longtime friend and collaborator). Speaking with energetic ease by phone from her home in London, Guinness reflects on what makes her one of fashion's most striking figures.

How do you define beauty?
True beauty always has something a little strange about it. The flaws in something are sometimes the most beautiful bits. The perfect Barbie doll that has the huge inflatable lips, boobs redone to look all perfect: I don't think that's very interesting. But someone that has a beautiful nose like Maria Callas....She was really beautiful. That's beauty.

You've said that fashion is an extension of self. What are you trying to convey about yourself with your style?
When I say it's an extension of myself—it's a protection of myself, not an expression of myself. I'm protecting my inner self. I could go disguised, in a way, in jeans and a T-shirt. But I couldn't bring myself to do that because it wouldn't be what I am, which is artistic.

How do you feel about being characterized as the "Couture Lady Gaga" ?

She's very talented. She seems to be living her own individuality and having fun with it. I would have to know her better to know if there are parallels. I would have to know where her inspirations came from, or how her artistic process works. I met her and we talked about books, and yes, on that respect we have many of the same interests. I thought she was an interesting individual.

You've said that "If you want to see the state of civilization, you see the way people dress." What do you think today's fashion says about us?
The fashion we have now is "reality reflecting reality." I don't think there's very much fantasy. Eccentricity gets muddled into fantasy. The word "eccentric" is overused. It's quite cynical. It's all done by marketing people, and you can just hear the meetings. "This week it's going to be X and next week it's going to be Y." We're on iPod shuffle.

You've been described as a true original and a risk taker in fashion. Do you see yourself the same way?
It's very, very organic. It's not something I do on purpose. I do like to experiment, yes, because I would like to see what would happen "if." Sometimes it goes hideously wrong, I'm sure, but it's always quite fun. It's nothing to be taken seriously. Yes, I'll take risks, but I'm not going to have my stomach hanging out. It needs to fulfill some artistic void that I'm trying to figure out.

As a mother, how did you encourage individuality in your children?

I just read to them. Of course I read them [Harry] Potter and stuff like that, but I also read them War and Peace and Lord of the Rings when they were two. It helps if you get them interested in books. It's freedom. Individuality and freedom of expression, as long as it's not obscene, is very good.

Can you describe your creative process?
I have so many ideas—I just wish I could make them all. I can see them. I know how they work. I know them inside out. I try to get things done. With Alexander [McQueen] for instance...I couldn't cut or sew like he could do, but I could certainly sit back and laugh, and say, "What if we did it like this?” I have other people I'm like that with and it's just fun!

How did the Nars collaboration come about?
[François Nars] is a very wise man and an extraordinary artist. Even before I did this, I'd been buying Nars since the beginning— eyeliners and all those dark red nail polishes. When I agree to do something with an artist, I put myself entirely in their hands. I give feedback if they ask for it. They know what I can do, they know what I can't and they're normally people I know quite well anyway. They know that I'm pretty easygoing. On all of these collaborations I have a fantastically good time and I learn something more each time. And if I can make one authentic thing a year, or more, then that's what I'm trying to do, bit by bit.

How do you balance your mind, body and soul?
Read, read, read, reread and read. Right now, I'm reading Anna Karenina for the fifth time. F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favorites. I read a lot of books about politics. I read a lot of books about physics. The other things I love reading are dictionaries. I do yoga when I can. I just go around the corner, in New York, to a Bikram place. One of those really scuzzy ones. And when I'm near a pool, I'll do 45 minutes swimming or I'll get on a cross- trainer. I try to keep active. And I'll take the stairs instead of the elevator.

What's on your iPod?
It's a real mixture. I go between Sixties stuff—Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Stones, The Beatles and Johnny Cash. What I really like is Handel and Mozart and Wagner and Scriabin and Chopin. What I like to do is listen to opera all day long and mostly it drives everybody else nuts. And Bach. Bach is the thing. When I've been really, really anxious, I put on a prelude.

Do you have any favorite makeup tips?

Take your makeup off at night. I'm not brilliant at makeup tips. I just try to keep it as light as possible because when I go heavy, I can end up looking like an alien. Like with the pictures where I was wearing the blue contacts. I [just] walked off the set. I had costume makeup. When you've been doing that for so many months, you sort of think that's normal and you think, That's all right. I'll just go out like this. I don't have time to go wash it off and put on something else. I just went like that and didn't realize that I actually was hyper... kind of like, so stupid. Oops!

Do you have a life philosophy or motto?
Just keep me awake. I have no choice but to deal with it apart from art. Art is the place that I feel safest because anything is possible.

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