On screen or off, at a red carpet gala or dashing to the airport, Tilda Swinton is woman who wears clothes very well. Part of it is her lean, 5' 11" frame that lets fabric drape luxuriously over her limbs, but most of it is her attitude. She gazes into cameras with ice blue eyes and frost-blonde hair and one thinks this is a woman who could wear a muumuu and look chic. It's no wonder that fashion houses like Chanel want to put her in their ads or that film directors like to give her roles with elaborate costumes. We spoke with the 53-year old Scot during her first visit to Austin, Texas during the South by Southwest festival. She was in town promoting Only Lovers Left Alive, a hauntingly beautiful vampire film by Jim Jarmusch which opens in movie theaters this Friday, April 11th. Swinton, who was seen sporting Chanel cowboy boots and a midi-leather skirt earlier in the day, talked about her role as Eve, a centuries-old, blood-drinking romantic, and also attempted to explain why she is really not the fashion star everyone thinks she is.
Only Lovers Left Alive is technically a vampire movie, but it doesn’t feel like one.
It’s a love story. Of course, it does involve a vampire element, but I would suggest that is secondary. It’s about long life and long love. You don’t need to be much older than 16 to know that you occasionally need to reboot your relationships. A long, long relationship [like between two vampires] needs to constantly renegotiate itself.
In the film, your character wears clothes from many different eras all mixed together. Why is that?
We wanted to make it clear that these people were not attached to any one time, so the costumes could be medieval or from this season or from the '50s. We worked with leather a lot, which helped because that kept this slightly medieval aspect. And then, of course the hair was very significant and important. These [vampires] were not really into hairbrushes. When were putting together the wigs, we were looking for a kind of texture that didn’t really come from human hair, so we tried wolf hair. I’ve got a lot of wolf in my hair.
You are also seen in Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel wearing an amazing costume. Your transformation into a wealthy octogenarian was remarkable. What was the process like?
So thrilling. I’m such a nerd when it comes to all these technical layers. I loved being able to work with incredible artists and their prosthetics. It was quite extraordinary. It took five hours. Five hours on, five hours off. Only for a day or two. It wasn’t Jim Carrey in The Grinch or anything, but it was amazing.
A few weeks ago you were in Paris for the couture shows. How does that scene compare to SXSW?
It’s a circus, just as this is a circus. In a way, I think it’s quite similar. It’s a very exciting thing to be mixed up in. To have the privilege to have a beginner’s mind like I have is a quite luxurious thing. If you have as little knowledge as I do, and if your relationship is as tangential as mine is, you can just dip in and out quick.
How is your love for fashion evolving?
I’m not even sure I have a love for fashion, to be perfectly honest with you. My relationship with fashion is entirely based on my relationship with various individuals and friends of mine who happen to make the work. If I didn’t have those friendships, I would not be invited to their shows or even invited to wear their clothes. I don’t follow fashion. I still have – and am happy to retain – a beginner’s mind.
Is it frustrating when what you wear to a premiere – like those amazing fringed Schiaparelli sandals you wore in Berlin - get more attention than the movie itself?
Not at all. That’s a part of the circus too. That’s what that moment is an opportunity for. I would much rather have people looking at my shoes than at me. It’s a way of deflecting attention. It’s also a way of sharing that moment, say with [Schiaparelli's] Marco Zanini or Haider Ackermann or Chanel or whomever I am hand-in-hand with on that bit of carpet. It’s a way to be in company.
Here in Texas you’re wearing Chanel cowboy boots, did you specifically request those?
Yes, absolutely! I said, ‘I’m going to Austin. Give me some cowboy boots and cowboy gear.’
1. In Haider Ackermann, 2014
Swinton wore a long, geometrically-printed overcoat and matching pants by Haider Ackermann to an event in New York City. The actress styled her menswear-inspired look with a brown button-front blouse and pointy-toe pumps.
2. In Chanel, 2014
As the face of Chanel’s Pre-Fall 2013 collection, Swinton sat front row at the Chanel Couture show in Paris in head-to-toe Chanel. The Oscar-winning actress worked a star-printed sweater and a fringed midi skirt from the said pre-fall collection.
3. In Schiaparelli Couture by Marco Zanini, 2014
At The Grand Budapest Hotel premiere in Berlin, Swinton wore a slouchy-yet-perfectly tailored Schiaparelli Spring 2014 Couture ensemble by Marco Zanini. To add oomph to her classically chic look, Swinton accessorized with a larger-than-life ring and anything-but-basic feathered sandals, also by Zanini for Schiaparelli Couture.
4. In Chanel, 2013
The Museum of Modern Art’s 2013 Film Benefit paid tribute to Swinton in New York City and the actress showed up in a look fresh off the Chanel Spring 2014 runway. Swinton complimented the clean color palette by posing for pictures sans accessories and working barely-there makeup.
5. In An Orange Coat, 2013
Swinton proved that she isn’t afraid to play with color at a photocall for the Deauville American Film Festival. She paired a bright orange dress coat with pastel blue pumps—a risky color combo that Swinton pulled off effortlessly.
6. In Haider Ackermann, 2012
Swinton walked the Golden Globes red carpet in 2012 in a powder blue Haider Ackermann ensemble. The actress incorporated feminine elements (like Fred Leighton jewels and strappy sandals) while managing to stay true to her beloved androgynous style.
7. In Haider Ackermann, 2011
Swinton wore custom Haider Ackermann—a designer whom Swinton favors—to the 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival in France. An Olympia Le-Tan clutch, Jil Sander pumps, and a punchy pink lip completed Swinton’s colorful look.
8. In Jil Sander, 2011
We have Raf Simons' Spring 2011 Jil Sander collection to thank for the buzzed-about look Swinton wore to the 2011 Golden Globe Awards. The actress chose a button front blouse to add a sophisticated ease to the buttercup-colored skirt. The best part? A pastel pink pump that peeked out from under the floor-grazing skirt.
9. In Haider Ackermann, 2011
Swinton proved that sometimes accessories need not apply. Case in point: Swinton commanded attention at the Berlin Film Festival in 2010 in nothing more than a perfectly draped, one-shouldered Haider Ackermann column.
10. In Lanvin, 2008
Swinton became an Academy Award winner (for her role in Michael Clayton) wearing Lanvin. The actress showed off her distinct sense of style by teaming the black satin number with a creative cuff and minimal makeup.