“I don’t intend to hurt anyone, so I really don’t want to be hurt either.” “Britain’s most eccentric dresser” Daniel Lismore on overcoming trolls and his relationship with Isabella Blow. From our LGBTQIA+ issue.
In a large, sun-drenched room overlooking Reykjavik’s icy blue harbor stands an army of 39 soldiers. Not unlike the Viking men who graced the region centuries earlier, these figures tower over everyone who dares approach, and each one is more impressive than the next. In lieu of the traditional combat attire, however, the helmets worn here are coated in bright blue feathers and glistening gems, and any chain mail to be seen rests atop layers of hand-painted silk, hot pink fur, and Chinese embroidery. In one corner, a warrior wears an orange, acrylic dome—not dissimilar from the plastic cones forced upon poodles and labradors after surgery—with several feet of tulle, a jet-black beaded gown, and a striking Alexander McQueen jacket below, as well as a magenta Philip Treacy hat once worn by Boy George just above. Another’s camouflage comes in the form of rich red and gold silks, with a blanket of rubies and pearls, an oversized crown, and a flamboyant and furry interpretation of Joseph’s Technicolor dreamcoat soaring toward the ceiling. Despite the eccentric garb, there’s a certain calmness in the air, and every member of this army has his thickly lashed eyelids firmly closed—except for one.
Standing 6ft 4in, with wavy, brown hair down to his derriere, Daniel Lismore is difficult to miss in most settings. But the London-based artist blends right into this room, and that’s because the 38 soldiers he created and curated here are essentially his clones. The anthropomorphic statues, and more importantly, their accoutrements, are in fact part of a global and ever-growing exhibition, aptly named for Oscar Wilde’s famous quote, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” The collection of ensembles, comprising roughly 6,000 pieces of clothing, jewelry, accessories, and other objects, is the embodiment of nearly two decades of Lismore’s life and the whimsical living sculpture he’s known for. The result is an assortment of looks he’s worn over the years, alongside his personal history, inspirations, friendships, and travels, all woven into an enchanting world for others to explore. But, as is often the case, the creations on display here are truly nothing without their creator.
Lismore has never been one to conform to his surroundings, and just as the 35-year old stands out in any venue or crowd today—even when that venue is a Vogue party and that crowd includes some of the biggest names in art and fashion—so did he during his more formative years. While other teenagers in his native Coventry were taking style inspiration from Posh and Sporty Spice and searching for the perfect floppy hat, he was looking to the likes of David Bowie and Star Trek’s Jean-Luc Picard and playing with his mom’s jewelry. “I was bullied at school for many reasons,” the artist recalls. “For being fat, for being a Star Trek fan. Everyone thought I was gay, so I had all these qualities that were problematic as a young kid and probably still are.” Lismore was drawn to the more tolerant London, and at just 17, he moved to the city to study art and became obsessed with the work of Salvador Dalí, Andy Warhol, and David LaChapelle. Inspired by surrealism and celebrity, he began questioning reality and wondering why commercialism wasn’t reflective of real life. “I thought I could start photographing myself in these situations, or actually be in these situations and live like this, and that was the beginning of me as an artist,” says Lismore. He went through a phase of dressing like Wilde and another of dressing up for London’s nightlife every evening, and what started as an exploration of history, culture, and personal expression soon garnered him a reputation as the most flamboyant dresser in England.
As a young creator working in the fashion industry, first as a model, then assisting stylists at Vogue and Pop Magazine, Lismore was fortunate enough to meet some of his strongest influences early on in his career. “I think it was Isabella Blow who really changed the way I thought,” he says of the late magazine editor and Philip Treacy muse, who was the first to push the artist towards his now-signature red lipstick. “She was one of those people who I spent a bit of time around, and her love for life and love for fashion and beauty and detail really inspired me.” Other friends-turned-inspirations, and inspirations-turned-friends, include Nicola Formichetti, Vivienne Westwood, Lee (Alexander) McQueen, and even Anna Wintour, who he says routinely pulls down her glasses, looks, and smiles every time she sees him. Perhaps above all else, though, Lismore turns to the genius of history. “Many looks are inspired by kings and queens, but Queen Elizabeth I is my main influence for everything,” he explains, sure to note it’s “only her style, definitely not the rest of her.”
While the host of fashion-industry talents who have crossed his path have undoubtedly enhanced Lismore’s vision and artistry, the thing that really sets him apart from the rest is his ability to see beauty in the mundane. A sense of style is powerful in any setting, but unlike his peers, who pull together their looks from runways and luxury retailers, Lismore finds many ingredients for his over-the-top creations in everyday items. “It’s hard to choose a favorite, but there was one outfit made of black bin liners that I particularly loved,” he says, a smile growing across his face. “I remember blowing them up and going down the street with these kind of spikes coming out of my head, with 12in heels, a pair of tights, and a black vest, and I went to a club called BoomBox. Gwendoline Christie was next to me, screaming on stage, and one of the bin liners came off and went into the crowd, and people started hitting it around. And then another came off, and another, and it was just like, ‘Oh my God, this is just so much fun.’”
Lismore, in many ways, was years ahead of the rest of the fashion industry in his devotion to sustainability and repurposed materials. “I really don’t throw anything away,” he says. “Right now, for example, I have, like, six boxes in my living room that are full of broken things that I’ve worn over the years, and they will be turned into something else and perhaps put in my exhibition and remain like that forever.” He’s been incredibly outspoken on the topic and, last year, even collaborated with Swarovski to turn 400,000 upcycled crystals into costumes for the English National Opera. “The whole sustainable-fashion idea is something that I’ve always considered,” he says.
But whether he’s dressed head-to-toe in garbage bags or wearing $60,000-worth of Swarovski crystals, Lismore insists that it only takes him 20 minutes to get ready each morning. “No one believes it, but imagine your makeup takes 5 to 10 minutes, and then you grab something, pin this, this, this, and then throw everything on,” he says. “It takes seconds to do that. It’s not that much. In fact, it would take me an hour and a half to look like a normal person.” Lismore doesn’t even own any jeans or T-shirts, other than a few political punk tees that he’s cut up and repurposed. “There’s really no in between for me, and it’s never not a look,” he clarifies, because he sees every day as an opportunity to showcase his creativity. “I think you have to celebrate living while you’re here and just do as much as you can while you have the ability to.”
But life for Lismore hasn’t been all rainbows and butterflies, even if that’s what he’s wearing for the day. “You honestly never know how people will react,” he says, thinking back to the various times he’s been attacked and beaten on the streets of London. Lismore thinks times are changing, but the advent of social media and sharing his art on a global level has definitely attracted some hate. “You know, I’ve actually blocked every single negative word that I could be associated with, so I never see anything bad,” he says. “If anyone says anything, I block them straightaway. I don’t even respond. I just block it. I don’t hurt anyone, and I don’t intend to hurt anyone, so I really don’t want to be hurt either.”
Even with the odd bout of animosity, though, Lismore has continued his art and has actually grown his audience. With nearly 80,000 Instagram followers and a coffee book released by Rizzoli in 2017 to incredible acclaim, the artist is known around the world. His exhibition has traveled to Atlanta, Miami, Naples, Poland, and of course, Reykjavik. “I just had this concept a few years ago that all artists are celebrated after they’re dead. I don’t really want to be celebrated, but I thought it would be interesting to come up with a retrospective before even starting, and living as sculpture, I could actually do that,” he says. At the end of the day, however, Lismore insists he’s not a performer, even if his life may seem like a performance. “It’s just a really interesting way of living, and it brings me to so many good and bad places. I’ve always understood who I was, but I’ve realized that many people don’t, so I hope they can look at this and realize the person you’re trying to be exists because you’re you, and you can’t avoid that,” he says, as he disappears into his army of clones, still somehow finding a way to stand out.
@daniellismore on Instagram
Images captured by Sølve Sundsbø for Mission’s LGBTQIA+ issue.