Stranger than Paradise

Tilda Swinton’s totally surreal fashion adventure.

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Tllda Swinton

Stranger than Paradise

Tilda Swinton’s totally surreal fashion adventure.

I have seen such beauty as one man has seldom seen,” wrote the English eccentric, poet, and surrealist collector Edward James as he gazed into the heart of Las Pozas, the fantastical jungle paradise he built in Xilitla, Mexico. Hoping to embrace that liberated realm of the imagination and unconscious so familiar to James, the photographer Tim Walker and the actress Tilda Swinton created a series of phantasmagorias inspired by artists Salvador Dalí, Giorgio de Chirico, Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, and other James muses and collaborators. In an homage to a photograph Man Ray took of James, Swinton wears a pair of leather typist’s gloves made for her by her friend Olivier Saillard, the director of the Musée Galliera, in Paris. “He printed the letters of the keys of a typewriter on them,” says Swinton, “which is particularly meaningful to me, who refused to take a typing course, in favor of a path to art school.” Like James and his circle, the unconventional Swinton has always subscribed to her own mutable notions of beauty. “Being beautiful was never really something I associated with people I knew—certainly not girls,” she says. “Boys, maybe. Horses, yes, and certainly my great-grandmother Elsie Swinton, whose imperial grandeur was like a watermark.” A drawing of Elsie, by John Singer Sargent, once hung in Tilda’s family’s sitting room, just above the television. “I saw her looking out of the corner of her eye, straight at me, during my teenage years—a knowing, engaging, and infinitely amused attitude,” Swinton recalls. “She was dark and luscious, unlike the rest of us, who are sandy and pale. Not looking like her felt, somehow, like being born on the wrong side of the beauty tracks.” Perhaps it depends upon who is doing the looking. In Walker’s dreamscapes, Swinton is the enigmatic beauty—perfectly at home in James’s madcap universe.

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