I had never heard of Daniel Lismore. A quick google search, and a hot tip from one Violet Chachki, led me to writeups of critical acclaim; his beautiful collection of trinkets and textiles, an amalgamation of some of the most legendary names in fashion (McQueen and Hermès to name a few), a well weighted review en Vogue, not to mention my bygone almost-alma mater’s newly polished wing, SCAD FASH, hosting the retrospective.
The exhibit, “Be Yourself; Everyone Else Is Already Taken,” opened onto a dimly lit and beautifully mirrored showroom. Spotlights illuminated thirty decadently fashioned mannequins with more than 3,000 articles of one-of-a-kind pieces, hand picked and assembled on site by the artist himself. The figures symmetrically aligned with one another to be reflected in floor-length mirrors on opposite walls. When looking into it just right, you were presented with endless rows of these extravagantly draped warriors, evoking an “army of me.” Like the Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s terracotta warriors, these figures each revealed their own individuality through a collage of all shapes, sizes, and textures of fabric and chachkis.
Beautifully matched and artfully pieced together, each of these anthropomorphic creatures became gods, goddesses, monsters, and queens from every era and every corner of the world. Daniel told me later that each of the figures represents a part of himself. Like facets of the artist’s mind, these figures had their own story to tell and feeling to emote. I sent Daniel a couple of questions to get a better idea of what these warriors represented:
What do each of these “looks” mean to you? What is it that made you decide what each figure should be?
Each sculpture is a journey of my consciousness and my culture, my mind, and how I think. Every piece in the ensembles has a memory for me from either where I bought it or why or where I wore the pieces out and what happened on the evening of. Whilst curating the exhibit I couldn't help but think of my journey as a model to now. So in a way the exhibit is a story of my life. The idea behind the exhibition layout is of the terracotta warriors in China. All unique characters protecting their emperor. For me, when I put my clothes on I turn into a warrior whose mission is to change the world through culture. My subconsciousness is the emperor.
How long have you been accumulating this wardrobe, and where does it all come from?
I've been collecting pieces for about sixteen years. I'm now thirty-one. I loved the idea of collecting beautiful things and accumulating cultures to remind me that there is more to the world than my immediate culture. I feel we are losing culture in the western world, so I try and learn from others. There are pieces from McQueen’s shows, jewellery from Masai, Afghanistan, Mexico, India, Thailand, Somalia, and Celtic, South American, and other cultures. Malcolm McLaren pieces from the 80s. Hats given to me by Boy George, kanduras from Dubai, and costume pieces and recycled objects I've assembled into my outfits over the years--an array of my travels around the world. I also added couture pieces that I've worn from Sorapol, the fashion label I am the creative director of.
How do you think cultural appropriation should be used in art and fashion?
I believe that we should reference it where we can. We learn about others that way and I believe that the world is so close-minded to so many things. It's important to promote free expression in any which way that liberates us or teaches us about other people.
Who or what inspired you as a child and burgeoning artist? What made your clothes into armor?
I was inspired by my mother and Auntie as a child. I loved how my mum went into her bathroom and came out looking glamorous and smelling of amazing perfume. The other inspiration was my auntie who ran the village shop. She was a real English eccentric. Her style was not amazing but I loved how she mismatched her fur with her football socks and heels when she went to deliver newspapers. I watched a lot of Star Wars and then Star Trek so that really inspired me. I loved the uniforms of the characters and the futuristic look of aliens. In school, I loved sculpture and making things. I guess this attribute is now part of how I dress.
Now, I'm inspired by everything, nothing, and my past, whether it be my previous outfits or my travels. Modeling helped me by making me understand what makes a good photo so I think of how my looks could be photographed sometimes. I think about the shapes, colour, and textures. Traveling a lot and experiencing the good and bad things of life made my clothes armour. The things I wear attract people to me like a moth to a flame but sometimes not always for good reasons. I've literally worn real armour out and been attacked by under-educated people on the streets of London.
But the armour also helps me to convey my messages and to help change the world in small ways. It helps me to achieve my goals and dreams. Although people look at me, they never tend to see the real me unless they are my real friends and I do not have many of those. I surround myself with artists, musicians, actors, and like-minded people from all walks of life from all over the world. They inspire me a lot. I think the way the world looks at me gave me the idea of protecting myself with my armour.
Who should we be looking at now and where can we see more of you?
I think we need to open our eyes and stop the pretence we see now. I keep my eyes open at all times and usually we are surrounded by unknown artists. I think we should look at who's surrounding us and support the talent. That's how every cultural movement has started. It's important to help all artists.
You can see me where you like! But I'm always present on Twitter and Instagram, and of course there are thirty-two of me standing in SCAD's Museum of Fashion and Film in Atlanta! - SCAD FASH!
What do you want people to know about you and your work?
I think I'd like people to see me as an average person. Which I am. I'm proof that anything is possible. I hope to convey ideas of self belief and confidence. I'd like people to feel they can dress how they like, be who they want, and shouldn't have barriers as long as they are not hurting anyone. Clothes shouldn't have barriers--if you want to wear a shirt, wear one. If you want to wear a sari or a dress and you're a man--put one on. It's simple and you get used to it and so do the others around you.
Daniel wants us to be individuals, aligned with a sense of self that puts us out into the world, unafraid of what others can and more than likely will do. His warriors are teaching us to be brave and bravery is something we queers can get behind. Paired with a collection of famous photographs of famous people by Jonathan Becker in the next room, this army of fashion and self-actualization seemed out of place, evoking something larger and more powerful, more existential than the institution hosting this beautiful invasion from the mind of London’s Most Eccentric Dresser.
“Be Yourself; Everyone Else Is Already Taken” is on display now until April 1st at SCAD FASH.
Blake England takes blurry photos and does things on computers sometimes. He likes sad period pieces, brain matter, Scandinavia, and wears a lot of black.