Tilda Swinton: A Muse for The Eternal

Tilda Swinton by Tim Walker.
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.”

“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!”

PLAYING DRESS-UP: Designers turned out in force Tuesday night in Paris for the final rehearsal of “Eternity Dress,” a performance starring Tilda Swinton and fashion curator Olivier Saillard of Palais Galliera. Christian Lacroix, Jean Paul Gaultier, Clare Waight Keller, Haider Ackermann, Veronique Nichanian, Bruno Frisoni, and Bouchra Jarrar were among those gathered in the small amphitheater at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts.

Swinton exuded pure intensity as she was painstakingly measured, and fitted with multiple muslins and various collars and sleeves. The evening climaxed when she struck iconic poses of the great couturiers, including Paul Poiret, Chanel, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and André Courrèges, ending with Comme des Garçons as she slipped off her pumps and slid her feet into men’s brogues.

Gaultier was in raptures, calling Swinton “a high priestess of body language and interpretation of clothes — she is a sculptor in the way she rolls herself into fabric.”

He also praised Saillard, calling him “a master surgeon, capable of demonstrating with the work and the precision that makes couture what it is. There is a remarkable poetry and humor in this dissection of couture on the human body,” Gaultier said.

“A beautiful evocation of our job as fashion designers, our creative process,” concurred Jarrar, lauding the references to “our way of working, our gestures.”


I would have excepted Lady Gaga to pull something this high-brow off but people will be too skeptical. With Tilda, it seems it is much more believeable.