Daniel Lismore, 6’4’’ without heels, is a towering storm of colour rarely out of sight in London’s cool cat haunts. Winking, laughing, posing and dancing his way through crowds, he is a ubiquitous presence of the club circuit, and probably the most distinctive resident of East London.
At the age of 26, he has been the protégé of the ultimate fashionista; the late Isabella Blow. He’s danced on stage with Kylie, Ke$ha and Peaches, run and hosted countless cult club nights, appeared in music videos with Alexandra Burke, painted the face of Adam Ant, and partied with pretty much everyone. He has been a photographer and a model, a club promoter and a fashion muse.
His arresting looks – chaotic piles of ribbon and cloth; exotic, totemic masks; layers of shimmering makeup; huge cartoon emblems; random plastic trinkets; mountainous headgear; pumpkin-sized false breasts; feathers; moustaches; monocles; patterns; gold – have earned him the tagline of “London’s most outrageous dresser” from US Vogue.
We catch up with Daniel in the toilets of a Soho nightclub. Tonight Daniel has taken inspiration from Zsa Zsa Gabor, looking like a giant caricature of the ageing socialite. Now and then throughout the conversation he sounds like her, too, throwing an occasional Hungarian ‘dzarlin’ at the people coming in and out who actually want to use the loo.
Why Zsa Zsa? “I am totally obsessed with her. I have been since I was a kid. It’s hard to pinpoint my inspirations. When I was young it was Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson. And Notorious B.I.G. I wanted to be a rapper. And an astronaut.
“As for inspirations now, the Maasai and Samburu tribes. There are festivals called sing-sings in Papua New Guinea and that’s my biggest inspiration at the moment. I really want to go next year.”
I wonder how Daniel thinks dressing up effects a person’s outlook. “If someone were to wear my clothes for a day they would learn that life like this isn’t easy. I am a walking target for absolutely all sorts of comments and behaviour from nice people, horrible people – everybody. I am like a magnet to people, which I think is why I have done so well in club land.
“The worst reaction people have is always jealousy. As for the best reactions, well Kylie Minogue gave me one of the best reactions; she put me on stage dancing with her. I have sung karaoke with Kate Moss, all just because of the way I look.
I ask for the back-story, where it all began: “There are photos of me as a kid, blacked up from top to toe with shoe polish. I remember doing it. I always had dressing boxes and I don’t think that has ever left me. So it’s not really something I have fallen into, it’s something I have done forever.”
A big part of Daniel’s mission is to encourage others to create looks as untamed as his own – his nightclub invites are sometimes small-printed with the only-half-joking threat that guests had better make an effort. “I think once people know how to dress up, they really enjoy it and it can give them some kind of expression. Plus it stops them doing drugs and all sorts! I just think everyone should dress up. It can take as little as 10 minutes for me to put something together – no more than an hour and a half. And I never know in advance exactly what it will be like, I just do it.
“I can see why people might think I’m a little mad or unstable, but I am just as stable or unstable as anybody else. I have dressed up since I was a kid, and never known anything else so it’s not really a reaction to anything or a symptom of anything. Certain people have dressed up since man existed in some amazing way or other. If you look at all the different tribes, someone always dresses up and when I go out I feel sort of like a tribesperson, because it’s part of my culture. It’s just who I am.
“Sometimes I feel like I just can’t look normal. It would never work. My face, my hair, my body size, my height and everything about me. I could wear the most ordinary clothes and still stick out. So really I might as well make the most of it.”
But Daniel’s stand-out image hasn’t always been the source of success and acceptance: “School was the worst time in my life, I was taught all the wrong things about religion or how to be – everything.
“I went to a Catholic school. In fact, I was an altar boy. It was miserable, but I loved the priests’ robes. I was obsessed with funerals and what the priests wore.”
I ask Daniel what his defining career moment was, and he seems to genuinely struggle: “I’ve done so much, I don’t know. I suppose firstly, out of thousands of people, I was chosen to be a model. They later decided I wasn’t right, and thank God they got rid of me because I ended up with another agency and my first job was for L’Uomo Vogue. So it just proves that…people are idiots!
“Having Stephen Fry say I was a genius was amazing. He called me and my Mum geniuses. Not because he already knew her, but it was based on a look she put me in – she dressed me as Oscar Wilde.”
Daniel’s life is so involved with London – his home in Brick Lane, his nights in Shoreditch and Soho – I ask if he could ever imagine living elsewhere: “Yeah, everywhere. I would live with the Maasai – in fact I have lived with them for months in Kenya.
“I could live anywhere. I love the high and the low life. I don’t want to hide away from anybody, that’s why I go out and do this. For me, a crazy look is not a defense thing – I’m a self-publicist. I am my own PR guy, so I don’t want to hide myself. I want to be out, all around the world.”
Click here to see Daniel in motion on the i-D magazine website.