Art & Culture

I AM ART - Daniel Lismore

“Daniel’s work actualizes what others only dream about: a court scene of his own making; each character, Daniel himself. Be Yourself; Everyone Else Is Already Taken — this book and the exhibition that launched it — portrays Daniel’s brilliant, cheeky self-portraits. One need not look further than the title to understand how fully Daniel expresses his own persona.” - Paula Wallace, from the Foreword; “Daniel Lismore: BE YOURSELF, EVERYONE IS ALREADY TAKEN”, published by Rizzoli.
Reading time 9 minutes

Daniel Lismore is a London based Artist, Designer, Performer, Stylist, Writer, Human Rights Warrior and Curator. At 6ft 4 inches, with hair down to his waist and androgynous features, the 35-year-old cuts a striking figure even without his multi-layered outfits. "People are going to stare anyway so I think I may as well give them something to stare at.”

With a flamboyant sense of style he has made it his mission in life to be a living work of art. Like Marchesa Luisa Casati, Leigh Bowery and Isabella Blow before him, self-expression is everything. Described by Vogue Magazine as "England's Most Eccentric Dresser” Lismore is best known for his flamboyant dress sense serving a form of statement, sculpture and even armor. “For me,” Lismore says, “when you put on your clothes, it’s like you’re going out to war in the world.” Such a strong look often overshadows the person beneath the clothes, but this doesn't seem to bother him: "I prefer that because I'm quite a private person. There's something about being surrounded by a ball of color - I don't have to open up to everyone."

Daniel Lismore studied photography and fashion design at the Butts College Coventry, and at the age of 17 he moved to London. 

“I was brought up in a small village called Fillongley, in England, and was raised by my grandparents who were antique dealers so I was constantly surrounded by beautiful objects and a sense of history. I think my taste and imagination was formed by my grandparents’ interest in culture, not just of British culture but of the world. They always encouraged me to explore and experiment. I have been bullied all my life for one reason or another, it was particularly bad when I was at school so I spent a lot of time alone in my bedroom and was obsessed with pop culture. I watched a lot of SciFi, mainly Star Trek, I spent a lot of time being creative, sculpting with clay and painting, I had an amazing dressing up box. I believe that time has been a big influence on my work.”

Lismore started his career being a model, as well as being a photographer. He has been shot by and acted as creative consultant to some of the world's most famous photographers including Mert & Marcus, Steven Klein, David LaChapelle and Ellen von Unwerth. Eventually, he moved into editorial and styling (the tutu from Azealia Banks' 'Broke with Expensive Taste' album cover), while simultaneously ruling the naughties London club scene. In 2012, he became the Creative Director of fashion brand and atelier Sorapol, (working alongside founder Sorapol Chawaphatnakul) dressing stars including Nicki Minaj and Paloma Faith. 

He counts Boy George, Adam Ant and Vivienne Westwood as friends and came up in the industry with designers such as Levi Palmer and Jean-Pierre Braganza.

Initially inspired by WWF wrestlers - "all these grown men running around in sequins, like warpaint!" - and Star Trek, and then discovering musicians like Bjork and Marilyn Manson, and later David Bowie and Boy George, Lismore began dressing to be different, even if he was just popping out to buy bread. For him there are no down days, no dressing to conform: "It came to a point about six years ago when I went through my closet and got rid of everything. T-shirts, jeans, normal things that people have in their wardrobe I gave away because they're not right for me. I was conforming and I just thought, 'why am I dressing like this?'"

Daniel Lismore is known for elaborate and extravagant ensembles that brilliantly combine haute couture with charity-shop finds, yards of vintage fabrics and tartans, found objects, ribbons, feathers, chain mail, shells, ethnic jewelry, retro accessories, millinery and more in an expression of eccentric, creative energy. Inspired by art in all its forms, history and his travels, Lismore constantly combines and amalgamates multiple inspirations from around the world into vibrant expressions of cultural appreciation. 

“I find my inspiration from cultures, subcultures, the people around me but mostly in dreams I have. I have taught myself to be able to lucid dream and wake up to write ideas down on and off for long periods of time. It took me a while to get the hand of it but it is where I get my best ideas from. Usually shocked with the outcome of what goes on in my dreams. Studying to be a photographer I was always told to keep my eyes open. Find beauty everywhere you look. I see my life as a film playing out before me so I do things I probably wouldn’t do if I lived any differently and I discover more of my surroundings where I take inspiration. I am fascinated by people, I am thrown into situations a lot of people would either be scared of, or unable to access. I love to listen to people whether they are royals, artists or transsexual prostitutes in Soho. Everyone has something interesting about them and I like to find out what it is and take note. All the notes help me play out my life.” 

A prominent fixture on the London fashion and art circuits, he is both a tastemaker and friend to artists ranging from Stephen Fry and Debbie Harry, to Boy George and Edward Enninful who all contributed to his first book, “Be Yourself, Everyone Else Is Already Taken”, published by Rizzoli in 2017. Borrowed from a quote often attributed to Oscar Wilde, its title is a testament to the Lismore’s positive intent—to explore the connection between dress and identity, and to assert the right to be truly individual. In this book he shared 32 3D sculptures that comprised his first US museum exhibition, co-curated by Savannah College of Art and Design and which was later displayed at Miami Art Basel. More than 30 of Lismore’s eccentric ensembles, which together comprise some 3,000 richly layered articles of clothing, accessories, trinkets, and baubles, are on display. What’s more, the faces looking out from the show’s mannequins were cast directly from Lismore’s own visage, each carefully hand-painted to match his own striking makeup palette. “It’s an army of me,” says Lismore of the show’s design concept, which took the idea of clothing as armor to its logical conclusion with looks mimicking the layout of an imperial court, complete with emperors and warriors, kings and queens. It was specifically based on the regimented formation of the ancient Chinese terra-cotta Army. The traveling exhibition has received immediately over 10,000 visitors worldwide and was ranked by WGSN as the 2nd most significant global fashion exhibitions of 2016. What Daniel has conceived is remarkable, each outfit is adorned by object d’art, exotic textiles, Indian and African accessories, couture fabrics, punk paraphernalia, Alexander McQueen, Philip Tracy and Vivienne Westwood pieces, artifacts or cut outs which create and make a provocative and romantic statement, each armor has a multi-dimensional feel which tells a story from whichever angle you look at. 

“That’s how I always see things. If someone responds really negatively to the exhibition, I go ‘well I’ve opened their eyes for a minute’. And they realize that there are others out there, all sorts of people and I think that’s what we lack a lot. It's a part of humanity to kind of be aggressive, but another part is to try and understand others.”

In May 2017, Lismore was invited to exhibit alongside Lina Condes at the Palazzo Pissani during the Venice Biennale. In June 2018 Lismore curated a month long show of his work at Harpa Hall in Iceland as the highlight of the Reykjavik Arts Festival and had over 6K attendees. The exhibition continued to travel the world (Tate, V&A), and opened at Pan Museum in Naples in June 2019. 

“People are so caught up in what’s going on everywhere else, rather than in their own lives,” he says of society’s social media obsession. “We all follow trends, and yet the most amazing people come out of the woodwork when they don’t just follow fashion.” His ultimate mission is to inspire visitors not just to dress differently, but think differently. “Clothes mean everything to me,” says Lismore, who is often compared with the late performance artist Leigh Bowery. (Both reigned over legendary London club nights—Bowery at Taboo in the 1980s and Lismore at Boombox in the 2000s.) “The way I dress opens doors and it closes doors. It’s not just my image, it’s my whole identity. I go by color, texture, and shape,” he says. “The only rule is that there’s no such thing as too much. More is always more.”

As an active campaigner Lismore was the face of H&M “Close the Loop” campaign to encourage recycling of clothes. He is an ambassador of the climate change charity Cool Earth and has worked closely with Vivienne Westwood on her climate revolution projects. Lismore's personal wardrobe archive highlights his commitment to sustainable fashion.  Lismore undertook voluntary work for the charity Icross and NWI in Kenya. He has appeared in numerous TV shows and films including a cameo in Absolutely Fabulous the Movie. He is an ambassador for Tate who hosted his first two exhibitions in 2012 and 2013 featuring selfies, and is also a global ambassador for Graduate Fashion Week which reflects the 6 years he spent as creative director of a luxury women’s wear brand.

“I think that we are all being blinded by politics and religion and ideals of others, and century-old ideas that don’t fit into the modern world anymore - medieval prehistoric mentalities, and it's not progressive for anybody.” Lismore says and continues: “And hopefully people will learn something (at the exhibition), that people do live differently around the world. It proves that you can live any way you want as long as you're not hurting anyone. I live my life as art, as a sculpture; a walking sculpture.”

@TEDtalk 2019: “My Life As A Work Of Art” - Daniel Lismore

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