Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Interview with Hilary Alexander from my book "Be Yourself, Everyone Else Is Already Taken" Published by Rizzoli.

DANIEL LISMORE

 By Hilary Alexander OBE



On November 5 th , 2015, the anniversary of Guy Fawkes’ 1605 Gunpowder Plot to blow up

Parliament, a young man entered the Palace of Westminster in London, wearing a gold-

sequined cloak, a Middle Eastern hijab and djellabah, an armorial  metal ‘pauldron’ or shoulder

protector, and a reproduction ‘Roundhead’ metal helmet.

It is almost certainly the first time a Roundhead military helmet has been seen in the House of

Lords since the brief rule in the mid-17 th century of Oliver Cromwell, the anti-Royalist Lord

Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, and one of the men who

signed the death warrant of King Charles’ 1 st .

The young man was Daniel Lismore, someone who was once dubbed ‘London’s most

outrageous dresser’, by American Vogue. The vintage armorial accoutrements were deliberate.

“You know when you put on your armour to go out. That’s pretty much what I do every day.”

It was not Lismore’s first visit to the imposing Victorian Gothic Houses of Parliament on the

banks of the River Thames. Previously, in 2012, he accompanied activist fashion designer, Dame

Vivienne Westwood, to a ‘Cool Earth’ event there, in full drag, wearing hijab and djellaba with a

Pakistani wedding jacket, accessorissed with a Miao tribal necklace, a Butler & Wilson cross, a

plastic Hermès “Kelly” bag, high heels and a blonde wig; a kind of Dusty Springfield-meets-

Dame-Edna hybrid.

The looks, just two of the thousands Lismore has assembled for himself in more than two

decades on the F-row of London’s club, video and fashion scene, are all in a day’s work.

As he discovered in his early twenties, when “you’re as tall as I am, you tend to tower over

people” – he stands at 6ft 4in – “so you might as well do something with it. People are going to

stare anyway, so I think I might as well give them something to stare at.”

His mantra  has led to a career as model, scenester, night-club- host, stylist, and creative

director of the ultra-couture label, Sorapol, as well as early exhibitions at both the Tate Modern

and Tate Britain, a ‘star’ spot as the global face of the Swedish H&M chain’s ‘Close the Loop’

sustainability campaign, and, most recently, a cameo appearance in the new AbFab movie.

Some may see Lismore as a look-at- me exhibitionist, the epitome of a self-and- selfie-obsessed

generation Super-glued to free expression. Or perhaps his dressing-up is a means of escapism?

Lismore decries all explanations for his zany take on life.

“I know full well I’m going to get attention when I walk out the door, but I don’t dress for

attention. I dress for myself and I dress to break my own boundaries. I think you’ve got to go in

life. We need colour.”

 “I’m lucky that I can dress up, because with my height, sometimes I’m quite socially awkward; I

can be in the way. But if I accentuate it, with make-up, headgear and the looks,  it becomes an

extension of me and I thrive. I like to be amused. I may look as if I’m the one on show, but for

me the audience is the one that’s on show; it’s more interesting, I can be an onlooker. I

appreciate that sounds like a contradiction, but behind it all, I’m the one doing the observing.”

Without make-up and the gloriously garish assemblage of  make-up and outfits, inspired by

everything from history books to the high street, from sci-fi to cross-cultural sustainability,

Lismore is a tall, clear-skinned, wide-eyed innocent with raven hair swinging to his waist and a

compelling androgynous beauty.

Give him between 20 and 40 minutes in his wardrobe, and in front of a mirror with cruelty-free

Illamasqua’s extensive range of cosmetics and he becomes an other-worldly hyper-human.

Imagine, for example, being introduced to a monolithic, glittering, living, breathing, fantasy

incarnation of  ‘Eleanor of Aquitaine’ as a ‘Golden Warrior”, – just one of the “statues” in

Lismore’s “Be Yourself – Everybody Else is taken” exhibition, which opened at SCAD, Savannah

College of Art & Design, in Atlanta, in January 2015.

In Lismore’s own words: ‘ It starts with the hijab and djellaba, then a selection of Sorapol, pearl-

embroidered fabrics  and Indian and Thai textiles are draped and folded and safety-pinned into

a ‘uniform’, entwined with ropes of gold,  charity shop jewellery and Thai dancers’ jewellery.

Two Indian wedding “hands” are worn as earrings, then there’s the Roundhead helmet, and a

charity shop handbag”.

Equally extraordinary is the ‘costume” inspired by Queen Elizabeth 1 st

“She used to dress to command attention so that was the effect I wanted,” Lismore says. “The

crown was made for Nicky Minaj’s ‘Freedom’ video and the ‘costume’ is made up from a red

Mongolian sheepskin, custom-made chain-mail, a Masai shuka (checked blanket), a Louis

Vuitton leopard-print scarf, and Indian embroidery panels. I accessorised with Thai jewellery, a

crystal cuff cut from an old Jasper Conran dress, and Miao chokers. I added Agent Provocateur,

100-year- old Chinese garnet and pearl necklaces, chicken feathers, a gold leaf skull, a Kenneth

Jay Lane Ashanti ring, and charity shop bracelets worn as earrings”.

Then there is ‘Punk Marie-Antoinette, “a homage to London with a French spin”, which is a

bizarre assemblage of two Sorapol couture gowns in pearls, glass beads, silk pom-poms and

lace; a draped Alexander McQueen dress; and an Indian sari embroidered in silver and crystals -

all safety-pinned together and worn with a Boy London “boob” T-shirt and a Malcolm McLaren

‘Seditionaries’ straight-jacket. Not to forget the accessories – which include a hat made of bone,

straw, acrylic flowers and chopped netting, with a butterfly lampshade, a Mercedes-Benz car

bonnet insignia, safety-pin necklaces and ostrich feathers.

The pieces form just a small part of the mind-boggling exhibition, curated by SCAD’s Rafael

Gomes, from more than 4,000 pieces in Lismore’s own wardrobe and styled by Lismore himself

as a hyper-stylistic vision of what he actually wears.

Each of the 32 “statues”, as Lismore terms them, wears a mask of his face, in full make-up, an

effect which occasioned something of a ‘volte face’ when he stood amongst them for the first

time.

“It was actually quite scary; like being in a Hall of Mirrors. ”



The exhibition had a five-month run at SCAD and is now opening at Miami Art Basel.

Understandably, galleries in Europe and London are bidding to feature it on their 2017/2018

schedules.

When asked what he would like visitors to take away from the exhibition, Lismore explains it in

simple terms: “I want people to come in and see that someone does actually live their life like

this. It demonstrates that as long as you’re not hurting anyone, you can live any way, be who

you want to be.”

The exhibition is a massive acknowledgement of the dreams and desires of a young boy who

grew up in a small village in The Midlands in the heart of England, loving Star Wars, Star Trek

and World Wrestling Entertainment and knowing only that he was destined to be different -

and turned his childhood dressing box into his destiny.


HA: Let’s start at the very beginning; tell me where you’re from and a little bit

about your childhood.

DL: It’s a bit confusing. I was raised by my grand-parents in Fillongley, in

Warwickshire, The Midlands. My mother was English, and very young, and my

father, from Irish decent, died before I was born, so his parents became my mum

and dad.

HA: I’ve looked up Fillongley. It’s a very small village, more of a hamlet. It’s

mentioned in the Doomsday Book, but the only exotic connection I could find is

that it’s in the Forest of Arden, which was the ‘mythical’ forest of Shakespeare’s

“As You Like it’, hardly a hotbed of fantasy fashion. What was it like growing up?

DL: Very happy, very rural, the best upbringing. My parents were hard working.

We lived in a big Tudor house, and my Dad was an auctioneer so some of my

earliest memories are of  the beautiful objects he would bring home: Oil paintings,

antiques, and I clearly remember a set of original Louis XIVth plates. They were

very social, always entertaining and going out. Mum did dress up. I remember

watching her put on her make-up and perfume.

HA: Any siblings?

DL: My mum had a son to keep me company, but he was also my uncle (he’s a

musician in a punk band now), and a daughter, who was also my auntie. She made

me listen to Whitney and Mariah. We had a dressing-up box, full of medieval

things, vintage hats, clowns’ outfits. We all loved dressing up. I remember a purple

wig, a bit Dame Edna Everage,  probably my only early reference to anything

weird, but I didn’t think of it as a man or a woman, just a personality.

HA: How were your school years?

DL: I had the worst time at school. It was a Catholic school and I was bullied

constantly. I was tall, I was overweight, I was a geek and I didn’t play sports.

HA: Did you have many friends?

DL: Not really. I was a Star Trek fan and I was obsessed with Star Wars. Dad

bought home all the Star Wars figures and I made outfits for them with plasticine

and Play Doh.  I loved WWE; my favourite was Macho Man, I loved the glitter

leotards and tassels. And I loved the church; the gold work, the paintings, men in

dresses. I was an altar boy, I’m not religious, but wherever I go I will always l look

around the churches.

HA: When did you first realise you were different?

DL: I realized I was gay when I was about 14, and by the time I was 16, I knew I

didn’t want to be like everyone else, dress like everyone else. I was already over

6ft tall, so I was different.

HA: Is there anyone you remember, an aunt or uncle, who was eccentric in their

dress who was an early inspiration in dressing differently?

DL: I’d go on the paper round with my auntie Jeanette who ran the village shop.

She was a writer and poet and she’d wear hippie skirts and a fur coat with football

socks and heels. She looked different, even by default. I used to wear flared tie-dye

jeans from GAP, loads of accessories I made from springs and chains, and 5-inch

Cyber Goth platforms by Swear. I’d got into the whole Goth thing in Coventry by

the time I was 17. I loved Marilyn Manson, and I used to go to the NEC in

Birmingham to see Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath.

HA: When did you tell your family you were gay?

DL: I never came out as gay, I did come out as me though. It was about 2000.  My

Mum was very cool about it. I’d discovered the Birmingham gay scene and I used

her Elizabeth Arden foundation and mascara. I grew my hair and dyed it platinum,

and then blue. Then I got scouted at the Clotheshow at the NEC, by two model

agencies, Select in London and Boss in Manchester.

HA: Had you thought about being a model at this stage?

DL: Kind of, but I didn’t think it was possible. But I’d lost loads of weight by then,

and I was crazy skinny. Boss sent me to ICM, and I remember going to the agency

and Orlando Bloom was there and Rupert Everett, Liz Hurley, Alek Wek. I did a

shoot with Phil Poynter for L’UomoVogue, then a GHD campaign. …. I spent

some time in Milan, and back in London I worked with photographers like Mario

Testino.

HA: I’ve seen photographs from your early modeling days. Short, slick-back hair,

suits, no make-up, the reverse of how you are today.

DL: I had to cut my hair short and the agency told me always to have a clean face,

no make-up, and they took me to Topman to buy some normal clothes. But I still

had ripped jeans, and I’d safety pin my clothes together.

HA: So how did you manage with your love of dressing up?

DL: I’d dress-up for night. I used to wear masks, and I’d buy fabrics, drape my

body and fasten them with safety pins.  The first club I remember was Ghetto

where I met the drag queen Jodie Harsh. I discovered Soho and Kashpoint; that

was my epiphany. I met Levi Palmer, the designer with Palmer Harding; he made

me my first dress. Jodie started a night called Circus at the Soho Revue Bar, I

started hosting at Kabarets Prophecy in Golden Square. There were the Mayfair

clubs, quite a dandy scene where I’d dress up as an Oscar Wilde rent boy -  Mum

would find me velvet jackets and scarves in charity shops.

HA: Did you know at this point that you had found a way ‘to be’, to live your life?

Was it a very conscious, deliberate decision to make your life about dressing up?

DL: Yes. I discovered how to live in London. Dressing up was, and is, something I

love doing. People started to know me. I was living with Levi, and we’d have big

house-parties and club nights where everyone dressed up. I’d spend the whole

week making outfits for the weekend, using bubble-wrap, tinfoil, anything I could

lay my hands on. I worked with Kylie, Kesha, and George Michael and iD

magazine used me for a shoot, and they gave me an honorary cover shot by Kloss

Films.  We printed the cover and made it into an outfit. It was crazy; at one time I

was probably out most nights for an entire year.

HA: It sounds a fun life, but fairly superficial.

DL: I  was wasting my life. I never touched drugs, but I was drinking and I needed

to do something more creative. I went to Kenya for a few months with a doctor I’d

met online, who was helping people with Aids. I’d studied photography a bit in

Coventry, and I started taking photographs. I visited villages  which had been

devastated by Aids, and I found women’s groups and commissioned them to make

jewellery. I did some work with charities, building toilets and trying to help. That’s

where all my political activities started. It helped me put my life into perspective.

When I got back to London I met a young Thai student (Sorapol Chawaphatnakul),

who was studying at London College of Fashion, and we used his school funds to

start a label. He was the designer and I was creative director.

HA: Fashion seems to have been a logical move?

DL: It brought everything together – styling, dressing-up, photography, putting on

catwalk shows, being ethical, the Green movement, bringing all the people I’d met

and knew from the club scene together, and I got active in Vivienne Westood’s

Climate Change. We did our first Sorapol show in 2012 in St George’s Church in

Hanover Square. By the time of the second show, we were dressing Nicki Minaj

and Paloma Faith.

HA: How has the Sorapol label continued to grow?

DL: Celebrity endorsement has really helped. We now dress celebrities like Mariah

Carey, Cara Delevingne and (Lady) Victoria Hervey, and we’ve done pieces for

DL: There’s actually 4,000;  accessories, hats, jewellery, clothing and textiles,

from all over: Charity shops, things from friends, vintage, market stalls, stuff I’ve

picked up on my travels. It’s assembled on 32 mannequins. I styled each one as a

‘sculpture’, in very rich versions of what I would actually wear, starting with the

hijab and djellaba, which I wear every day. Then I layered different fabrics and

textiles and metallics on top, all secured with safety pins, no stitching, and then

added jewellery. I was thinking of an army of ‘beings’; kings, queens, emperors,

knights.

HA: And you do actually go out dressed like this, don’t you?

DL: Of course.  I’m not sure if it’s fashion or art. Or would you say I’m living art?

I’m still unsure about that. There were, and are, a few reasons I do what I do:

Because I want to, also I’m so deep inside this ‘persona’, that people don’t see me,

and because I like to push boundaries. Sometimes, I’m quite socially awkward, in

the way, because of my height, but when I accentuate it, I thrive. I like to be

amused.

HA: How has it impacted upon your life? Do you face prejudice?

DL: I’ve been brutally attacked and I’ve been flown across the world, so the worst

and the best has happened. It’s not always sweetness and light. There is a lot of

prejudice on the streets. I was out one night with Kelly Osbourne and Steve

Strange. I was in drag – I don’t always drag-up, but this was a night off – and I was

wearing Issey Miyake with inflatable boobs and a blonde wig. A guy spat on me,

five times! I whacked him, I beat him up with my Versace bag. I think being tall

helps, I’m 6ft 4in, I tower over most people, it’s quite intimidating.

HA: How do you go about assembling a look?

DL: It’s like painting with fabrics; my body is my canvas. It starts with a concept,

colour  or theme depending upon my mood. I pick something up and it goes from

there. I match it with either texture or shape;  and I always do my own make-up. It

takes me between 20 and 40 minutes.

HA: What’s the next act in the ongoing Daniel Lismore performance.

DL: I have a cameo appearance in the new Ab Fab film, which was great fun. I

wore an orange ‘dome-collar’ around my neck which was originally made by

Sorapol as a skirt for Azealia Banks who I styled for a while. The exhibition from

SCAD will re-open at Miami Art Basel at the beginning of December 2016. I’ve

heard various European galleries and museums want it.

HA: You’ve obviously met hundreds, thousands, of celebrities en route to

becoming a celebrity yourself. Who would you say have been your major

influencers?

DL: It’s a long list, so many people have helped me, so many people I’ve met on

the way, many have become friends - McQueen, Amy Winehouse, David

Lachapelle, Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley (‘my bible’ when I was growing

up’), Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas, Boy George, Debbie Harry, Vivienne Westwood,

Kylie, Bjork, Anna Piaggi, Steve Strange, Daphne Guinness, Valentino, Kate

Moss, Izzie Blow, Hamish Bowles, Patrick Stewart, Tilda Swinton, Galliano

….everyone.

HA: Do you ever think about what you might have been, what career you might

have had if you hadn’t started dressing up?

DL: My parents wanted me to be a carpenter, but I think I’d have worked for an

NGO in Africa, or been a politician. Now, I  want to work in the art world, do

more styling, acting and be a perfumer. I studied under some of the greatest noses

at Scent London and made three perfumes for the SCAD exhibition. Who knows

what the future holds. Every day brings another phone call that takes me

somewhere else. I love the spontaneity, I never know what’s going to happen.

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