Tilda Swinton Has Reinvented the Face Mask

The custom design she wore to accept a lifetime achievement award is unlike any this pandemic has seen before.

Tilda Swinton holding up a face mask
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Somehow, this year’s Venice Film Festival is looking relatively normal. Not only are A-listers actually present, but they’re partaking in all the usual festival activities—arriving via water taxi, attending screenings, and posing on the red carpet. There is, of course, one difference: They’ve done all that while wearing face masks.

Since the festival kicked off on Wednesday, nearly everyone has downplayed the accessory. This year’s jury president, Cate Blanchett, went with a plain ole disposable version when stepping out in Giorgio Armani and Esteban Cortázar. Initially, Tilda Swinton also kept it simple. But when it came time for the opening ceremony, which found her in Chanel couture, the actor pulled out a mask unlike any this pandemic has seen before.

Tilda Swinton at the 77th Venice Film Festival opening ceremony and Lacci screening at Venice Lido on September 2, 2020.

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Technically, the ornate golden design wasn’t really a mask. Nor was it really pandemic-appropriate. It was more of a hand-held face shield, like the one Swinton has been wearing on set with Pedro Almódovar. But mostly, its purpose was symbolic—as a reminder to mask up, and as a nod to the fact that this wasn’t just any night for Swinton. She was set to accept the festival’s Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award, which is exactly why W contributor Jerry Stafford had it commissioned in the first place. He turned to the artist and frequent Björk collaborator James Merry, who took inspiration from orchids, stingray skeletons, seaweed, and the architecture of Venice’s Rialto Fish Market.

“It’s so beautiful to see all your eyes open and ready,” Swinton said during her acceptance speech. “Eyes, ears, don’t need this,” she added, gesturing to her mouth.

Later in the evening, Swinton went back to a disposable mask. But ahead of the ceremony, while properly distanced on the red carpet, the actor put her custom device to use, at times properly aligning its pearl details with her eyes. She pulled the same move the very next night, proving she has at least one other mask up her sleeve at the premieres of Quo Vadis, Aida? and her film with Almódovar, The Human Voice. Perhaps Swinton has another motivation for obscuring her face: “Every time I go out in public is a step for me because I’m a shy person,” she told the audience of a masterclass the following morning.

Tilda Swinton at the 77th Venice Film Festival’s screenings of Quo Vadis, Aida? and The Human Voice on September 3, 2020.

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While leading the masterclass, Swinton also took the opportunity to praise the Berlin Film Festival for adopting gender-neutral performance awards. “The whole idea of being fixed in any way, it just makes me claustrophobic,” she said. “It just makes me sad to call yourself definitively heterosexual, definitively homosexual, definitively male, definitively female. It makes me want to go to sleep.”

Related: Tilda Swinton Listed Her Favorite Films. Do You Dare Stream Them?