Daniel Lismore likes to dress up. So much so that the designer-stylist is now the subject of an exhibition and a book.
“I’m going to record it too,” says Daniel, setting down an iPhone. “I record all my interviews, that way I can’t be misquoted. Lindsay Lohan taught me that.”
Daniel Lismore is hard to miss. The 32-year-old model turned artist, stylist and designer arrives at the Soho members’ club for his Disorder interview, all six feet four of him wearing a teal fedora and sparkling tiara, a black kandora with some draped metallic fabric, and a coat finished with offcuts from Mariah Carey’s Mongolian fur jacket. “We made it for her at Sorapol,” he explains, referring to the luxury womenswear brand he co-founded with his friend, Bangkok-born Sorapol Chawaphatnakul.
Pretentious, moi? His extravagant appearance and relentless namedropping do little to suggest depth. But Lismore’s singular brand of creative dress-up became an exhibition last spring, entitled Be Yourself, Everyone Else Is Already Taken. The show, comprising 32 of his most iconic outfits, opened at SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion & Film in Georgia, USA, and toured to Miami Art Basel, the international art fair. “Some of the outfits were exactly how I’d worn them, others were amplified versions or new creations,” says Daniel. Each look was given a name that depicts a theme, from dark and sinister (Knight) to virginal, bridal couture (Princess). Daniel’s inspirations and globally sourced wardrobe pieces clash creatively and surprisingly. Mickey Mouse gloves mix with cameo brooches of past kings and Jesus Christ; tribal neck rings sit alongside a bare-chested Princess Diana; and tartan, fur and vintage fabrics complement Sorapol couture gowns.
In February 2017, the exhibition became a book. Rizzoli – the American publishing house, which has released tomes about artists, personalities and designers as diverse as Claude Monet, Donatella Versace and Kim Kardashian West – photographed the Atlanta exhibit and chronicled Lismore’s history.
“I had been thinking about having an exhibition because I had all these outfits in storage and a guy I knew, who was working at Vivienne Westwood, told me he was going to SCAD [Savannah College of Art and Design] to be their museum’s curator,” says Daniel. The college’s president, Paula Wallace, knew of Daniel because at the time he was fronting H&M’s Recycling Initiative: his face plastered across Times Square in New York. “It took three weeks to set up the exhibit, padding out mannequins and applying a cast of my face to them with make-up. We created an army of me, as I loved the idea of the Terracotta Warriors, having them in rows. Some of the docents tried to talk to them, thinking they were me.”
Daniel was raised by paternal grandparents in the West Midlands village of Fillongley. Population: 1484. His real mother was very young and his father died before he was born. His childhood was a happy one, despite a tough time at school where he suffered from regular migraines and was the target of bullies who singled him out for being tall, gay and different. He was a Star Trek fanatic. As a teenager he met actor Patrick Stewart at a Star Trek convention, who told him: “You can be anyone you want to be, as long as you work hard enough.” That remains Daniel’s motto and he claims not to have had a real day off in 14 years. “I wanted to be a superhero,” says Daniel. “Clark Kent goes into a phone box and re-emerges as Superman, and Superman can do anything. I don’t see myself as Superman, but this side of me can actually do anything and it attracts the most amazing people.”
John Galliano’s Dior mesmerised his teenage years and later he found the work of Alexander McQueen, Isabella Blow and photographer David LaChapelle. After briefly studying photography and fashion design in Coventry, Daniel moved to London aged 17 and was quickly signed with a model agency. He appeared in shoots for fashion magazines such as i-D and L’Uomo Vogue, and posed for photographers including Mario Testino. Through the 2000s he became a fixture on London’s club scene, spending nights and weekends hosting club events in Mayfair, Soho and East London. “The first club I went to was Ghetto and I discovered Kashpoint and Boombox,” he says. “Then I hosted a night at Kabarets Prophecy on Golden Square and clubs in Mayfair… all the clubs I loved have been shut down.”
He was always learning and promoting himself. He took various jobs in fashion, including wardrobe assistant roles at Vogue and Pop magazines, amassing industry knowledge and connections. When Sorapol launched in 2012 there was already buzz. Nicki Minaj commissioned looks for her Freedom video, released later that year. As Sorapol’s creative director, Lismore was heavy with ideas that Chawaphatnakul incorporated into the designs. “I had a dream about this beautiful Maasai jacket with a nod to Marie Antoinette. We wanted to juxtapose the richness in the two cultures, so we went to Versailles and I took out my photos from Africa and we came up with this whole collection,” he says. “Working on the collection was very unlike dressing myself. I wanted to dress beautiful women, beautifully.” Rita Ora, Debbie Harry and Cara Delevigne are among the label’s famous fans.
But no more! Daniel has quit Sorapol, emboldened by the book and the expo and the momentum gathering around his cult-of-me. “I’ve just left Sorapol. For five years everything has gone into this label, which I love. And it’s kind of mad because it was me and Sorapol’s baby. I have a book coming out, an exhibition going on tour and I’ve got to focus on my own things.” To-do’s include his roles as brand ambassador for cosmetics company Illamasqua; another ambassador role with Tate, in the young artists’ programme; his charity projects; continued work in styling; and bringing his exhibition to the UK.
The source of Daniel’s creative vision, his mission even, dates to a trip he took far from the madding fashion crowd. Before Sorapol he travelled to Africa with charities New World International and ICROSS (International Community for Relief of Starvation and Suffering), working as a photographer. Daniel spent time across Kenya, living with Maasai people, and in Samburu to the north. As well as being inspired by their traditional dress, he developed an increased sense of purpose and still volunteers with the charities, supporting communities in the region. “I vowed to do my best and to help people, whatever that involves. That’s one of the reasons I do what I do. It gives me a voice and an influence, whether that’s helping Vivienne Westwood’s campaign against climate change or throwing a party to raise money for HIV research,” he says.
American Vogue dubbed him England’s most eccentric dresser. And partly thanks to the spectacle of his self-presentation, he is misunderstood. “Even some of my closest friends found me intimidating at first, which I don’t understand, but I also don’t mind. Why have one perception when you can have many?” Daniel admires anyone who has carved an identity for themselves and isn’t afraid to make their mark. “I feel like a warrior sometimes going out to face the world, fight things, change things. It’s armour.”
Daniel Lismore Be Yourself, Everyone Else Is Already Taken is published by Rizzoli and out now.