Words Kirk Truman
Portraits Joseph Lynn
“Soho became a playground to me. I’d walk around the area in awe…”
It is mid-afternoon in Dean Street’s Groucho Club when Daniel strides up to the first floor to meet me. Strikingly tall, with impossibly long wavy brown hair, he’s draped in a long grey coat and insists that, today, he is dressed down. I suspect, though, that no day is really a dress-down day for the inimitable Mr Lismore. It’s evident when you meet him that dressing well is second nature, and that clothes, with all their nuance and detail, are at the centre of his life. Every ring, broach and thread of his attire tells a story as rich and vibrant as Soho itself. Daniel Lismore could be from a different era, almost another world, but when it comes down to it, he’s a Sohoite at heart.
Daniel’s work as a fashion designer, stylist and creative director has received international recognition. Self-modelling his own outfits and creations, from Masai tribal masks to baubles and chain mail, he has established himself as Britain’s most flamboyant dresser and a well-known face on London’s club scene. He first visited the capital in 2003 to join the protest against the war in Iraq, and it was then that the city first captured his imagination. Born in Bournemouth, he was raised in the Midlands, close to Coventry. He studied photography and fashion, moving to London to work as a model aged just 17. “I was scouted, so I moved here. It lasted about five years, all in all. I was young, and at 17 my first job was with Vogue,” he says. “Soho became a playground to me. I’d walk around the area in awe. The drug dealers, transsexual prostitutes and street urchins; I was instantly fascinated. A lot of my work was here, and the nightlife too. There was this Eastern European lady I would always see who had knitted her entire outfit. Every time I’d see her, it’d get bigger and bigger. Like a great many faces, she disappeared one day.”
Daniel found himself immersed in London’s noughties party scene, spending his evenings moving between Mayfair and Soho. “I met Jodie Harsh somewhere in the ghetto… she was starting a night called Circus and asked me to host it with her. At this point, Mayfair and Soho were a big part of my life. Agents were sending me all over the place, and that’s how it all started,” he recalls. “When Jodie started her night with me, we had everybody joining, from Amy Winehouse to Steve McQueen – everybody would turn up. It was a monthly night, moving from Soho Revue Bar, to Café de Paris and Paramount, which used to be at the top of Centre Point. It was the place. The scene was big back then, but it was also dying. It was my job to go out, find people and bring them to the club. I would meet people in the street who I admired, and truly thought were amazing, and bring them along to the night. Still, today, I don’t see my life as work: it’s living!” he grins.
Hand-in-hand with his endeavours as a scenester, Daniel had developed a unique taste in clothing and an eccentric sense of style. “I met designer Levi Palmer (now one half of Palmer Harding) and he began to dress me up. This became my introduction to, and education in, subculture and style. He took me to the club night Kashpoint, and it was really the start of my interest in nightlife” says Daniel, “We shared a flat together, and at the time I was beginning to try to make it as a fashion photographer. He and I would spend a whole week getting ready to go out on the weekend… of course, at this point I was already working with Jodie at Circus.” Daniel would search the streets for almost anything that was wearable and create the most flamboyant of looks – as he still does to this this day.
Daniel wears his astonishing, intricately detailed armour-like creations day-in and day-out: fearlessly individual, he’s always dressed for war. Standing six feet four inches tall, he was never able to avoid the stares of passers-by, so he’s made a point of giving them something to really stare at.
Now Daniel’s work has been presented in the aptly entitled book Be Yourself; Everyone Else Is Already Taken. From cheeky self-portraits to an array of brilliant and outrageous characters all played by Daniel, the book documents his vision of elaborate and extravagant ensembles. Retro accessories, ethnic jewellery, chain mail and shells: it somehow all comes together in a burst of creative energy, every detail working as part of whole that’s greater than its parts. Many would describe his style as eccentric. My take: it’s positively indefinable. “I’ve been attacked and had abuse hailed at me for being who I am. Everybody has an opinion, and I walk into danger constantly. Everybody has a view, which is great. Whichever view they take is their own assumption, and I can’t change that,” says Lismore. “What is art really? I don’t know myself. I don’t think anything about what I do is art. I am me. Who knows? It’s just a concept isn’t it? I know what I do. I love to create, and my art is myself. I’m a critic just as much as anybody else is when it comes to myself.”
Daniel continues to be one of the most recognisable faces on London’s fashion and lifestyle circuits. His talents have led him from the streets of Soho to becoming the creative director of ultra-couture label Sorapol. Whether he really has dressed down today, as he continues to insist, there’s certainly a kind of modesty about him that I admire. His mask of eccentricity could easily be interpreted as vanity, when in fact it is simply self-expression: the man behind the mask is anything but vain. And behind the mask and the mane of long brown hair, beyond the extravagant, armoured appearance, he communicates a simple, bold message: be yourself, everyone else is already taken. For this particular Sohoite, life is too short to be anyone other than Daniel Lismore.