Chatting with Calvin Klein, Valentino and More at Daphne Guinness' FIT Museum Opening

Alex Chapman

"More is more!" an FIT student remarked to a pal with a gaping grin, as if the Alexander McQueen catsuit fitted onto the wigged mannequin before her was presenting a newfangled prophecy. The catsuit in question belongs to socialite Daphne Guinness (as in "The Honourable Daphne Suzannah Diana Joan Guinness"), who, with her trademark Bride of Frankenstein-like coif, has become a guiding spirit of fashion in recent years. Last night, Guinness was holding an opening party for her first-ever, self-titled exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology's museum. Way before Lady Gaga was Lady Gaga, Guinness was acting as a muse for designers and creative types far and wide, including the late, great McQueen. Once called "the most stylish woman living" by Tom Ford, Guinness' exhibition includes some of her greatest archived garments, many of which were designed with her in mind (or by the Londoner herself.)

"Everything in Daphne's closet reflects her knowledge of and respect for the art of fashion," read an exhibit foreword by Valerie Steele, FIT's chief curator. What followed seemed to act as appropriate evidence to Steele's narrative -- shoes by McQueen and Rodarte that looked like couture mouse-traps laid displayed in glass cases, accompanied by slideshows of Steven Klein-shot photos, along with a Vogue video of Guinness prepping for a photo shoot.

The exhibit's collection of mannequins, some of which even had Guinness-inspired black and white wigs, were donned in the finest designer threads -- pieces by Chanel, Valentino, Gareth Pugh and McQueen (if you didn't have a chance to see "Savage Beauty" in the flesh, this might be the next best thing) filled the space, each outfit standing completely on its own. Waiting in the wings was a flustered Guinness, who seemed foreign to the unwavering amounts of praise and attention.

And...wait a second...was that...Valentino? Yes, the designer with the unmistakable Italian charm had entered the room to an unending flock of flashbulbs and handshakes. We subtly elbowed our way through his inner-circle -- would we be able to ask the icon a question? We could? We could!

"I've known Daphne for a long time," the fashion legend told us. "At the beginning, she was a bit more, let's say, 'normal,' but always very elegant with great, great taste. I'm always very pleased to see her and her amazing clothes, because there's always something 'in' and special."

We ran into W's Stefano Tonchi on the stairs, who told us he was one of the first to walk through the exhibit. What did he think?" Every single outfit in there she's worn -- I've seen her in a lot of them," Tonchi told us. "It's such a modern way to present a collection -- I don't like clothes, usually, in museums, but I think this is great."

Next we ran into the lady of the hour -- How was she handling the spotlight?  "This is overwhelming," Guinness told us. "But it's been such a fantastic experience, putting it together with Valerie and the team." Could she remember a time when she dressed, as Valentino said, "more normal?"

"Never," she said with a smile. "I suppose when I was pregnant... but I've never lost my imagination!"

And do any of the pieces make her feel a certain nostalgia? "All of it," she deadpanned. "I styled it all too, so I'm pretty secure in the fact that it is me, which is a good thing and also an overwhelming thing." Overwhelming indeed, as not soon after our quick chat did the fabulous and overwhelmed Daphne hop in an Escalade and head to The Dream Hotel, where a dinner was held in her honor as well an after-party by Nur Khan.

Curator Valerie Steele told us Guinness was the perfect candidate for an exhibition. "She's today's most inspiring fashion icon. I know there's been a lot of shows about great designers, but there haven't been a lot about great women with style."
Other attendees included Calvin Klein, who perused the exhibit with his former adult film star/current boyfriend Nick Gruber by his side, and who told us he thinks the show is "going to be very important for FIT." We also spotted Hogan McLaughlin, a Chicago suburbanite-turned-buzzworthy designer thanks to Daphne's use of his pieces in the show as well as her Barneys window performance this summer. "It's beyond words," said McLaughlin, who met Guinness via Twitter, told us about being supported by fashion's first lady. "She's been the most amazing person, and I owe everything to her."

The exhibit quickly cleared out, and once it became evident that Kate Moss was a no-show, Mick Jagger would only be at the after-party, and Oscar De La Renta wasn't going to talk to us (Zac Posen refused to speak to us as well), we decided to do one last go-around with everyone's favorite Bergdorf Goodman buyer, Linda Fargo.

Any stand-outs from the exhibit, Lind? "Well, there was a piece I'd never seen that struck my eye. It was the burgundy, full-body, motocross piece by some person named Hogan." Hogan Mclaughlin, the designer Daphne met on the Twittersphere? "Yes! That piece is phenomenal, and it makes me very excited that this person is out there, and I'm gonna find him!"

As we left the building, we told Hogan that Linda Fargo had been raving, but before he could seek her out, she fashionably faded into the night, surely onto the concluding events of this year's New York Fashion Week.

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