Tilda Swinton Covers W

Tilda Swinton W magazine August cover
Photo courtesy of Tim Walker / W magazine
Tilda Swinton blurs the line between masculine and feminine for W's August cover.

Emerald-eyed actress Tilda Swinton stalks onto W magazine’s August issue—and true to form, she upends fashion conventions in surreal photos. She also speaks about her iconoclastic style, both in front of the camera and on the red carpet.

For the cover, Swinton sets the pace in a dandyish outfit: a tuxedo jacket and blouse by Salvatore Ferragamo, Acne velvet trousers, and a high hat by Patricia Underwood for Chris Benz.

In the accompanying portfolio, shot by Tim Walker, she radically layers up and prowls an eerie, smoking Icelandic landscape. Her head capped, hooded, and sometimes even bald, Swinton makes a striking partner in what she calls her “dance with fashion.”

In one memorable image, for instance, she creates a crimson semaphore, standing on black volcanic rocks wearing a Zero + Maria Cornejo coat over John Rocha silk pants and a Gucci silk chiffon dress, all in red, down to her Eres swim cap.

Such extreme looks aren’t all that different from what she might wear to a premiere. In fact, her friend and style consultant, Jerry Stafford, also styled the shoot.

“He’s my playmate,” she explains to W. “It’s a game, and we have great fun with it.” It was with Stafford that she became a champion for avant-garde designers like Viktor & Rolf and Haider Ackermann.

Senior editor Diane Solway gives FashionEtc a bit more backstory. “When it comes to fashion, [Swinton] has a real adventurer’s sense of curiosity. She told me that besides being her friends, the designers she loves are all ‘pioneering,’ as she put it. ‘They’re all pushing it and making it up as they go along,’ she said to me. ‘I really, really love that.’”

Solway also found that “for all the other-worldliness of the Tilda you see in Tim Walker’s portfolio, she’s one of the most down-to-earth women you’ll ever meet. She’s a real person, not a persona, and she’s happy to tell you precisely what she thinks, without benefit of a flotilla of publicists.”

Tilda Swinton W magazine August cover, Giorgio Armani jacket
Photo courtesy of Tim Walker / W magazine
The girl who fell to earth: Swinton peers out from a Giorgio Armani jacket.

Swinton doesn’t always aim to astonish. Sometimes, she claims, her goal gets lost in translation. Her much-criticized Lanvin dress for the 2008 Academy Awards, for instance, was meant “to attract as little attention as possible,” she says. “Little did I know that the really simple, chic dress one might have worn in Paris or Berlin would stick out like a sore thumb in Los Angeles.”

The actress also spoke with editor-at-large Lynn Hirschberg about her starring role in the upcoming film We Need to Talk About Kevin, as well as her larger work on screen.

“I don’t get parts, I grow parts,” Swinton notes, pointing to films like I Am Love, which took many years to produce. She dubs her recent work “my mother-lode trilogy,” as she explores some of the darkest possibilities of motherhood.

Her key gauge of a role is whether she can empathize with the character, no matter how monstrous. “I have to feel compassion…. It’s not about liking the person, but it is about understanding. The Greeks speak about the violence of the real. I want to get at something real.”

For another masculine/feminine twist, check out Penélope Cruz’s V magazine cover story.