Ten Meets Tyne O’Connell, The Author Who Happens to be Mayfair’s Quintessential Eccentric
Don’t you just miss the party? Not knowing who you might meet, the low lighting, the loud music. Who knows when we might be allowed to resume life as we once knew it? The last event I attended prior to the lockdown was the 10 Men x Tom of Finland Foundation party at the London Edition hotel. It was a night to remember with Oscar-winning celebs, emerging designers, friends from the club scene and of course an open bar. Armed with a cinched waist I unknowingly enjoyed my last taste of cocktails not mixed by my amateur hand in the kitchen. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a most marvellous sight – a women with ruby red lips and was talking to the sculpture Daniel Lismore. Her hair was bucked high adorned with a golden tiara designed by Della Reed and she was enwrapped in an ancestral ball gown. I later found out her name was Tyne O’Connell, and although we didn’t get the chance to speak that night we had made our impressions on one another.
Tyne does not reserve her outfits for special occasions but casually wears her regalia around London. She became aware of the power of clothing from birth, she tells me. “I was obsessed with my mother and father’s wardrobes. My father was a dandy and my mother was a dandizette and when they weren’t home, I used to go and sit in their wardrobes. I just loved gowns, I’ve got clothes dating back to 1790s”. Tyne’s father was a British spy in the war and made close friends with the infamous Quentin Crisp whom he had met during an air raid. Despite being rejected from the serving in the war due to his “unnatural leanings” Tyne’s father described Quentin as “the bravest little fellow.” Quentin also formed a strong alliance with Tyne’s mother who used to “put him in his box. She diced and sliced him but I think he enjoyed being challenged. When I started rebelling and not wanting to go to mass I would wear jeans and my mother would say ‘go and put on something decent. Once you walk away from the mirror, it’s the rest of us that has to look at you, and no one wants to look at you like that.’” Quentin backed her up, saying that she owed it to her biographer to dress well each and every day.
Tyne speaks of Quentin in the most wonderful way, to listen to a queer icon of mine in such personal terms was enthralling. She was very thankful that her daughter got the opportunity to meet him and love him as she did “She thought he was a human marshmallow because he would keep applying his make up over and over every day. He was so very sweet and I think that he was very badly misunderstood. He was an old Edwardian, he was private and he didn’t really like being defined. He saw himself as queer but in the old fashioned way – as in not necessarily referring to sexuality,”
Tyne has been a novelist for the professional portion of her life. But she is foremost a historian who has been hellbent on shining a light on the forgotten and erased eccentric women and LBGTQ+ individuals throughout history. “What I’ve done is I’ve gone through history and discovered that it was written and rewritten essentially by straight white men. Initially, Quentin had asked me to write the history of eccentricity and the birth of it”. Tyne has not read a book by a male author if it was written after 1960: “because history is written by men to create a male narrative. Women are at least half the population. The Stuarts really put a value on people who were capable of new ideas, new art forms, new ways of living, dressing, thinking, because they recognised that the baroque was a celebration of people’s individualities.”
Tyne has been championing the virtues of the baroque with her confidant Daniel Lismore (who recently costumed for the ENO’s The Mask of Orpheus). They share a special relationship that is enhanced by their shared perspective of art and beauty. “Places and things matter, they matter as deeply as people and animals, everything that we touch becomes part of who we are. Everything we allow into our lives, everything we put on us becomes part of who we are and it becomes part of us and it’s a story, I treasure everything I own and I don’t want to own anything ugly.” When I asked about some of her favourite objects Tyne found it very tough to answer. “At different times, different things possess my soul and I want them by me, they’re like talismans but I do love my conversation fans that, like my tiaras, date back to the 1700s. I put them in my Birkin and go out and Daniel will hold one and I’ll hold the other and we’ll gossip about people.”
In 2013 Tyne was diagnosed with a brain tumour and is paralysed on the left side of her body after a suspected stroke. Through all of this, she found a great comfort in fashion and art. “The beauty is healing and it just makes me feel more cheerful. I find it very reassuring as well, that they’re much older than me and they still last”. While she was hospitalised Tyne took to wearing these extravagances everyday “I wear my tiaras every day, whatever the situation. I wear red lipstick and I may not wear anything else”. She told me stories of befriending the gay porters who’d help her sneak out of hospital when the treatment got too rough and allowed her to retreat home to rest. Tyne has now moved to palliative care and two months after leaving hospital she was on the catwalk for Michaela Frankova’s SS18 LFW show. Tyne puts her survival down to her attitude and approach to life: “When I finally removed myself from treatment. They said I’d die in months and I’m still here.”
This mentality towards dressing up is interesting in light of the global pandemic. Without a daily audience to dress for, we are becoming increasingly aware of our own style. Of how we’d dress if there were nobody else around. Tyne has recently recovered from her own brush with COVID-19 and is on the mend ready to forge a new world of beauty once lockdown ends and parties may resume. Until then put on your finest frock and always dress with Tyne in mind.
Photographs by Mark Bruce.