FAMILY

Tilda Swinton: “I Always Felt I Was Queer”

“I’m very clear that queer is actually, for me anyway, to do with sensibility."


Mystery has always surrounded Tilda Swinton’s personal life, particularly in matters of romance. The actor prefers to keep it that way. Rumors that she and her two children lived with both her ex-partner, the artist John Byrne, and her more recent one, the painter Sandro Kopp, swirled for years before Swinton shut them down. (“It’s very boring and it’s important to rectify, because there’s some fantasy about us all living in a big hut together,” she said in 2010.)

But in a new interview with British Vogue, which accompanies a cover photographed by Kate Moss’s boyfriend, Nikolai Von Bismarck, Swinton got candid about her idnentity more generally. “I’m very clear that queer is actually, for me anyway, to do with sensibility,” she told the playwright Jeremy O. Harris. “I always felt I was queer—I was just looking for my queer circus, and I found it. And having found it, it’s my world.”

That world, Swinton continued, is chiefly in cinema: “Now I have a family with Wes Anderson, I have a family with Bong Joon-ho, I have a family with Jim Jarmusch, I have a family with Luca Guadagnino, with Lynne Ramsay, with Joanna Hogg.” She’s particularly comfortable with the latter, whom she allowed to cast her daughter Honor Swinton Byrne in The Souvenir, marking her cinematic debut.

Swinton’s own debut was the first of many collaborations with the director Derek Jarman, and thereby the first of many explorations of gender and sexuality. Her breakout role, in 1992’s Orlando, was as a person who suddenly transforms into a woman after spending hundreds of years living as a man. In a way, Swinton relates to the titular character: “I can categorically say that as Orlando does in the film: Yes, I’m probably a woman,” she said in 2009, describing identity as a “very personal matter.”

See Tilda Swinton Completely Transformed as Legendary Eccentric Edith Sitwell

Tilda Swinton wears a Gucci dress; Marc Jacobs belt (worn as turban); rings: (right hand) Vela, (left hand, from left) Uno de 50, A. Brandt + Son, Lisa Eisner Jewelry, Lisa Eisner Jewelry.

Photograph by Tim Walker; Styled by Sara Moonves.

Tilda Swinton wears a Michael Kors Collection top and skirt; rings: (right hand, from left) stylist’s own, Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co., (left hand, from left) Uno de 50, stylist’s own; Monvieve choker; Camilla Dietz Bergeron necklace; stylist’s own turban.

Photograph by Tim Walker; Styled by Sara Moonves.

Tilda Swinton wears a Gucci dress and tights; Marc Jacobs belt (worn as turban) and shoes; rings: (right hand, from left) Pebble London, Pebble London, Lisa Eisner Jewelry, Arman Sarkisyan, Vela, (left hand, from left) Lisa Eisner Jewelry, Uno de 50, A. Brandt + Son.

Photograph by Tim Walker; Styled by Sara Moonves.

From Left: Edith Sitwell, photographed by Cecil Beaton, in 1962; A view of the Renishaw Hall estate in a 1930s photograph by John Piper; Osbert, Edith, and Sacheverell Sitwell, photographed by Maurice Beck and Helen Macgregor, in 1924.

© The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s; © The Piper estate/Tate London, 2018; Courtesy of University of Texas Press/National Portrait Gallery Publications.

Tilda Swinton wears a Michael Kors Collection top; rings: (right hand) Uno de 50, stylist’s own, (left hand, from left) stylist’s own, Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co.; Monvieve choker; Camilla Dietz Bergeron necklace; Joelle Kharrat necklace; stylist’s own turban.

Photograph by Tim Walker; Styled by Sara Moonves.

Tilda Swinton wears a Giorgio Armani jacket and pants; Gucci hood (worn as turban) and necklace; rings: (left hand, from top) Uno de 50, Gucci, Pebble London, (right hand, from top) Uno de 50, Gucci, Gucci. Beauty note: Walk a thin line. Lancôme Brow Shaping Powdery Pencil takes a precision approach for amplified arches.

Photograph by Tim Walker; Styled by Sara Moonves.

Tilda Swinton wears a Michael Kors Collection top and skirt; Monvieve choker; Camilla Dietz Bergeron necklace; Arman Sarkisyan locket necklace; Joelle Kharrat long necklace; rings: (right hand, from top) stylist’s own, Elsa Perreti for Tiffany & Co., (left hand, from top) stylist’sown, Uno de 50; Gucci tights; Chanel shoes; stylist’s own turban.

Photograph by Tim Walker; Styled by Sara Moonves.

Tilda Swinton wears a Givenchy dress; Marc Jacobs belt (worn as turban); rings: (right hand, from left) Dara Ettinger, Dior, Dara Ettinger, (left hand, from left) Patricia von Musulin, Patricia von Musulin; bracelets: (right arm) Urban Zen, Dinosaur Designs, Patricia von Musulin, (left arm) Patricia von Musulin, Urban Zen.

Photograph by Tim Walker; Styled by Sara Moonves.

Tilda Swinton wears a Marc Jacobs blouse, trousers, and belt; vintage hat from Early Halloween, New York; Cult Gaia bracelet; rings: (right hand, from left) Dinosaur Designs, Dara Ettinger, Patricia von Musulin, (left hand, from left) A. Brandt + Son, Patricia von Musulin.

Wyndham Lewis’s portrait of Sitwell, 1923–1935.

© Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust and Tate London, 2018.

Amedeo Modigliani’s Portrait of Edith Sitwell, 1954.

Heritage Auctions, HA.com.

A spot in the gardens at Renishaw Hall.

Photograph by Tim Walker.

Tilda Swinton wears a Marni coat; Alexander McQueen dress; Prada turban; rings: (right hand) Patricia von Musulin, (left hand, from left) Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co., Patricia von Musulin; the Row bag; Gucci tights; Marc Jacobs shoes.

Photograph by Tim Walker; Styled by Sara Moonves.

Tilda Swinton wears a Max Mara dress; Heather Huey hat; Proenza Schouler necklace; bracelets: (right arm, top) Cult Gaia, all other bracelets stylist’s own; rings: (right hand) Kathleen Whitaker, (left hand) A. Brandt + Son.

Photograph by Tim Walker; Styled by Sara Moonves.

Tilda Swinton wears a Michael Kors Collection top and skirt; Monvieve choker; Camilla Dietz Bergeron necklace; Arman Sarkisyan necklace; Joelle Kharrat necklace; rings: (right hand, from left) stylist’s own, Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co., (left hand, from left) Uno de 50, stylist’s own; Gucci tights; Chanel shoes; stylist’s own turban.

Photograph by Tim Walker; Styled by Sara Moonves.

Tilda Swinton wears a Michael Kors Collection top and skirt; Monvieve choker; Camilla Dietz Bergeron necklace; Arman Sarkisyan necklace; Joelle Kharrat necklace; rings: (right hand, from left) stylist’s own, Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co., (left hand, from left) Uno de 50, stylist’s own; Gucci tights; Chanel shoes; stylist’s own turban.

Photograph by Tim Walker; Styled by Sara Moonves.

From Top: The epitaph on Sitwell’s grave at St. Mary’s Churchyard, in Northamptonshire; Sitwell’s hands and rings, photographed by Jane Bown, in 1959; A photograph of Sitwell taken in 1924 by Maurice Beck and Helen Macgregor, included in the book The Sitwells and the Arts of the 1920s and 1930s.

Photograph by Tim Walker(2); Observer/Eyevine/Redux.

Tilda Swinton wears a Kwaidan Editions faux fur; Dior dress; vintage hat from New York Vintage, New York; Alice Cicolini ring; Urban Zen bracelet; Gucci tights; Marc Jacobs shoes.

Photograph by Tim Walker; Styled by Sara Moonves. Hair by Malcolm Edwards at Art Partner; Makeup by Lynsey Alexander for Lancôme at Streeters; Manicure by Trish Lomax at JAQ Management. Produced by Jeff Delich at Padbury Production; Production Coordinator: Lauren Sakioka; Retouching by Graeme Bulcraig at Touch Digital; Photography Assistants: Sarah Lloyd, Tony Ivanov; Fashion Assistants: Mary Ushay, Angus McEvoy; Tailor: Alina Gencaite; Production Assistants: James Stopforth, Charlotte Norman; Special thanks to Renishaw Hall, Jerry Stafford, Sandro Kopp. Beaton: © The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s; Piper: © The Piper estate/Tate London, 2018;vBeck and Macgregor: Courtesy of University of Texas Press/National Portrait Gallery Publications; Lewis: © Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust and Tate London, 2018; Modigliani: Heritage Auctions, HA.com; Bown: Observer/Eyevine/Redux.

Renishaw Hall, the childhood home of Edith Sitwell in Derbyshire, England, remains in the family.

Photograph by Tim Walker.
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Not all of Swinton’s adopted family comes from film. “I did have this beautiful connection with Karl Lagerfeld,” she told Harris. “Which was kind of mysterious to me because I was a jumbo shrimp, as my friend once called me, and he was working in this whole different exotic empire. That’s what brought me into my relationship with Chanel, which continues to be really inspiring for me.”

Related: How Honor Swinton Byrne’s Breakthrough Debut in The Souvenir Became a Family Affair