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August 29 2014

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Tilda Swinton: Fashion’s Muse for Eternity

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Tilda Swinton

Olivier Saillard—author, poet, star fashion curator—tends to prefer a contemplative moment over a grand event. He is also fond of saying that, had he ever studied fashion design, he would have done “just one dress” and then retired his tape measure.

Last night in Paris, he offered both. Eternity Dress, a fifty-one-minute performance starring Tilda Swinton, sponsored by Chloé, and staged at the École des Beaux-Arts this week as part of the city’s fall festival, has been sold out for months. In it, Saillard and Swinton explore the art of dressmaking, starting with lines and measurements (waist: 28 inches, and so forth) working up through flat patterns and the beginnings of a dress, which Swinton took a moment to sew on herself. As the dress took form, Swinton recited a litany of collar styles in French and released a world of emotion in the turn of a sleeve, finally draping herself in rich-hued chiffon and velvet unfurled from bolts lined up on the floor.

Ultimately, The Dress—a black sheath with long sleeves and an open back—was a stand-in for a century of fashion history, from Paul Poiret to Comme des Garçons. One of the show’s high points, as well as its biggest laugh, showed Swinton striking a series of emblematic poses for houses from Poiret to Yohji Yamamoto, by way of Chanel, Dior, Mugler, YSL, and Jean Paul Gaultier. Among a roomful of designers including Gaultier, Christian Lacroix, Bouchra Jarrar, Martine Sitbon, and Clare Waight Keller, Haider Ackermann was first on his feet for the ovation. “It’s absolutely a piece of my life,” said Waight Keller. “They’ve taken everyday materials like tape and chalk and elevated them to an art form about designing a dress from scratch. It’s about craft, measuring, and a considered approach. It’s poetry.”

Tilda Swinton

“One of the things about Tilda is that she can do anything,” noted Saillard after the performance. “She’s not a ‘fashion girl,’ so she can be a sculpture, an actress, a woman, a man, she can be 18 or 75 years old. It was like we were in a bubble, and the experience gave us lots of new ideas. Fashion has to be surprising.”

At the small cocktail party held afterward at Lapérouse, Swinton added, “Olivier is a playmate. We work and play together and come up with crackers ideas for some other time—it’s wonderful to be able to play off of someone like that.” Asked whether she realizes that she would be any designer’s dream to work with, Swinton let loose a small bombshell: “Maybe it’s because I know nothing about fashion!”

Photos: Vincent Lappartient

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Dept. of Culture