Driving the dream: Tilda Swinton, Haider Ackermann, and Roe Ethridge team up for Mercedes Benz

Last week, Tilda Swinton, Haider Ackermann and Roe Ethridge premiered their short film for the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class coupe at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, Berlin and invited i-D over for an audience.

by Anders Christian Madsen
14 July 2014, 8:35pm

Stills courtesy of Mercedes Benz

Perched in an armchair in a suite at the Regent Berlin, Tilda Swinton is sandwiched in between Haider Ackermann and Roe Ethridge like three exotic animals in a gilded cage. The dreamy trio has descended on Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin to premiere the most avant-garde commercial Mercedes-Benz has ever commissioned, a highly personal collaboration between the actress, the designer, and the filmmaker showcasing the new S-Class coupe. Shot in the glacial ridges of Scotland's most northern point over the course one rainy day, the short film is a glimpse into the darkly magical world created by Tilda and Haider through their decade-long friendship, fused with the emotionally charged brainwaves of Roe's mysterious dream world. For Tilda, the location was close to home, even if the actress normally drives a Land Rover and a family-friendly Skoda around the Scottish highlands where her family has lived since the ninth century. "The English have their nuclear bunkers there so they made really good roads so they could get to them quickly," she quipped at a press conference shortly before i-D met the collaborators at the hotel.

The film feels so much like being in your ideal world.
Tilda Swinton:
That's really nice to hear you say that, because I think what you're saying kind of expresses how easy it felt, like we were peeling something off.

How do you approach a commercial project like this?
Well, they commissioned us to do what we might have thought about doing anyway. We should be so lucky.

I'm curious to hear what the brief was?
Roe Ethridge:
For the last couple of years I've been working on a project based on my relationship with my mother - and on sons and mothers - and on surfing, so the two things were already present for me.
TS: When your mother comes and picks you up, you'll never really know what she was doing before she picked you up. What was she burying or picking up or throwing away?
Haider Ackermann: And also what she might do after?

Do you see yourself in that, Tilda, as a mother?
Yeah. Being a mother is a superpower in itself, but of course it's a superpower that a large proportion of humanity actually has.

I heard the film was originally meant to feature dialogue?
It kind of got canned. Not that it was bad - it was totally fine - but it was part of the process. A lot of things got jettisoned before we started, and I think that was Tilda's thinking.
TS: But I feel it was jettisoned not because it wasn't good, but because it upped the mystery. You didn't actually hear what she was saying or what her thought processes were. It was about trying to make it more and more oblique, more and more mysterious, and make less and less sense.
HA: It's also about allowing the individual person to make his own story, which is beautiful. You all think differently. That's the nice thing.

Do you drive, Haider?
It's a good story…
HA: Basically, when I was young, my parents gave me money to get my driver's licence. But my best friend, my childhood friend - my parents and his parents travelled together around all the countries so we grew up together - we took the money and went on a holiday. It was a really fantastic trip, and our parents got tremendously mad. They were really upset with us.

What happened?
Well, years after, my friend died and even though not being able to drive is a handicap today, I'm like, I did the best thing I could have done going with him on holiday. So there's a beautiful story related to the fact that I don't drive and I'm proud of it. But I do drive… just without a driver's licence.

What, where?
In the south of France at my parents' place.

I don't drive either. My driving teacher told me I wasn't meant for the front seat.
As long as you can be driven! Although if Mercedes give me this car, I'll happily drive it.

I think you should have a chauffeur, Haider. It's a very Haider Ackermann thing to have.
I think so, too. I think out of all the luxuries of service personnel, I think to have a driver is the ultimate. Of everything.
HA: That's the next goal.
TS: Although we will have a family pilot. Xavier, my son, is going to be a pilot. He's built himself a cockpit.

Does that mean he'll get a jet when he turns eighteen?
He thinks his father is going to build him a plane out of cigarette packets. He promised he would.

How did you pick the look Tilda's wearing in the film?
I wanted the clothes to blend in with nature. It was about Tilda and the car, and everything else had to be mysterious and vague.

When I first saw the film it struck me how defined the universe you've created together over the years is. It's very much how I imagine your private world, visually.
So we need to surprise him next time…
TS: We know Haider's shows, we know how beautifully the clothes move - and the movement is such an important part of the whole DNA of his work - but when we see still photographs of the clothes we kind of want to see them moving. So to do a film with Haider's work was really delightful.

You can tell how natural it came to you.
You're saying you're noticing the ease of it, and it was that easy. I was just thinking that the wonderful thing is that you have this incredibly mysterious woman at the beginning, who's in this supersonic car, and you see her doing these extraordinary, rather esoteric things that you don't understand, and then when she picks up the boy and she's revealed to be a mother, you notice that actually she's wearing something incredibly sensible.

It's true.
TS: It's incredibly fantastic and it's very beautiful and it's a very long coat, but you know what? It really makes sense. For the highland of Scotland it's a really good outfit. So it's that wonderful combination of, on the one hand, real fantasy-feeding, but actually super practical.

How did you pick the location?
There were various places, but it seemed like the ridge - the glacial scarring in the rocks - is just so ancient, so pictorial.
HA: You know something very romantic? When we were up there in Scotland, I thought of the Brontë sisters. You have this whole fantasy of the highlands, and then you have this supersonic silver car. For me that was really fantastic: those two together. It makes it very romantic and very mysterious. The landscape is from the past, and yet there's something so futuristic about it.



Text Anders Christian Madsen
Stills courtesy of Mercedes Benz
Watch the film

short film
tilda swinton
Roe Ethridge
Haider Ackermann
Edward Enninful
anders christian madsen