Daniel Lismore talks about how clothes and identity are society constructs

Shiny Varghese

With his friends such as Lady Gaga, Stephen Fry, and Vivienne Westwood, Daniel has worked on numerous campaigns, has met royalty and dined with dodgy Russians too. (Express)

Sometimes a snow god, sometimes a gypsy queen or a Andy Warhol painting, cheeky, irreverent and unusual, Daniel Lismore is everything we only dare to dream. A “walking sculpture”, a designer, an activist and writer, he never fails to turn heads dressed in fabric and steel, frills and brocade, ribbons and shells, feathers, crystals and over-sized safety pins. In Delhi, for the India Design ID 2020 recently, his face is wrapped by heavy steel chain mail, with a crown of real crystals on his head, and many more decorating his sleeves.

When he sat down to speak to us, his heavily embellished gauntlet lay to the side as he freed his left hand while on the right, he wears metallic hand jewellery. “I am a walking protest,” says London-based Lismore. “I questioned the system since I was 15. The way things existed never made sense to me,” he adds. That’s why growing up in Fillomgley, a village in Warwickshire, England, with his paternal grandparents, who were antique dealers, it wasn’t a smooth transition from playing Captain Kirk and Spock to wearing make-up and eight-inch heels.

He had to go through insults, bulimia, and rejection before he found comfort in the lives of Warhol, David Bowie and Boy George. Soon he found himself living life on his terms, when he was spotted at 15 by a modelling agency. The lanky six-foot-four ‘model’ found the fashion industry “very predictable”. “Not many people have revolutionised the fashion industry,” says Lismore, who was told that if he chose to be himself, it was going to be a struggle. “Over the years, I've gained confidence. This is my armour, against the world,” says the 35-year-old. Now called “the most flamboyant dresser in England”, he won modelling assignments and was on forums to discuss causes of the LGBTQ community, the rain forests, Brexit and climate change. “Good art always says something, and if I am the art then I must say something. There are a lot of people in power who can speak up, but don’t,” says Lismore.

With his friends such as Lady Gaga, Stephen Fry, and Vivienne Westwood, he has worked on numerous campaigns, has met royalty and dined with dodgy Russians too. “Be it a supermarket in London or the streets of Old Delhi, it’s fascinating to see how people respond to me. People are like magpies, curious about everything shiny and different. History has shown how we have bought into the idea of tribalism, we dress and behave in a certain way. I have invented my own way, and this is a part of my journey,” says Lismore.

His book Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken (Rizzoli; 2017), cued from Oscar Wilde’s quote, has photos of mannequins cast directly from his own face, each hand-painted to match his make-up. It was the result of the show by the same name in Atlanta, US, which later moved to Miami Art Basel. Lismore presented nearly 30 ensembles, each sumptuously dressed with accessories, baubles and fabric, presenting the connection between dress and identity and the need to assert one’s individuality.

“Many don’t know how to react to me. They question my identity. Am I man or woman, binary or trans? And then there is the question, is it a performance? Will he sing or dance,” says Lismore, in a gentle voice. “I was on a mountain top in Iceland, practising my lines for a TED talk. And there was a snowstorm brewing. A man who was hiking up didn’t even turn and look at me. He simply carried on. I think the lack of reaction is very progressive. Just because people wear obscure and different clothing, doesn’t mean they are abnormal.”