tilda swinton says no to fast-fashion in florence

In their third study of the meaning of clothes, Tilda Swinton and Olivier Saillard staged Cloakroom in Florence, an intense interaction with clothes, which questioned our culture of newness and consumption.

by Anders Christian Madsen
16 January 2015, 11:10am

In with the old, out with the new. It was—the more you thought about it—the lesson to take away from Tilda Swinton and Olivier Saillard's third fashion performance, Cloakroom, which took place in Florence on Thursday afternoon and completed the trilogy of plays staged by the duo over the past four years. "It's very much looking at the fetish of newness and the fetish of appearance. It's not really about appearance at all, it's about spirit, I suppose, and the life lived in these garments," Swinton said after the play, which saw her in the role of a cloakroom attendant imitating, investigating, and interacting with garments handed in to her by members of the audience. Over an intense hour and a half, Swinton threw her elfin body around the stage, breathing life into the lifelessness of garments draped over her cloakroom counter, studying them, caressing them - she licked the floral lining and at least one button of someone's blazer - and even chatting to them. "She's not even here," she reassured a pompom scarf, and later, to a jacket, "Don't be silly!"

"In many ways we had some of the ideas in this piece when we were making Impossible Wardrobe," Swinton said, referring to Saillard's and her first play in 2012, "so it's like a completion of that enquiry, which is about the soul of clothes. And maybe the most interesting thing about clothes is that people live in them and there's nothing else really to be said." But in a world of fast-fashion - whether it be the high-street or the luxury brands that practise it - there's a lot more to be said. The play was a study in people's own regard of their clothes, effectively exhibiting the importance we put in our favourite garments by inviting guests to take to the stage with their favourite outerwear and accessories. You could tell that some people thought their garments were really special, making their way to Swinton's counter with some impossible jacket or a gigantic scarf, smiling at their own conviction that their contribution would really change the performance. "What's she gonna do with this one," kind of thing.

In that sense, the play redirected fashion's usual spotlight on the style mavens of history to the everyman and woman and their everyday style choices. "It's to honour it with our clothes rather than Coco Chanel or Napoleon or anybody else," Swinton said. "The company [our clothes] provide us with." Since her mother, Lady Swinton, died two years ago the actress has been going through her wardrobe and realised the importance of the longevity of the garments that follow us through life. "Clothes outlive us very, very often. You know, body's gone, clothes still here. There's a tradition of people inheriting clothes—certainly in Scotland people tend to wear their grandfather's kilts. There's a feeling that clothes are to be passed down from generation to generation. It's only relatively recently that we have a fetish for newness," Swinton said, herself a fan of designers such as Haider Ackermann, whose seasonal but anti-seasonal work proposes a lifelong, essentially timeless wardrobe for his wearers rather than seasonal trend pieces.

"All of us, wherever we are placed in relation to clothes, are drawn to fewer articles than we might care to admit, because you have a natural relationship with them. The more I do this piece, the more I realise it's about making relationships," Swinton said. "We all have relationships with an old jersey that people have told us to throw out, but we're not going to because you know what? You've got a very strong relationship with that thing." To sceptics, who fancy themselves too serious to care about what they put on their backs, Saillard and Swinton's orchestration would have seemed like a silly intellectualisation of fashion. But while you had to be somewhat open-minded to accept their very long interpretation of the meaning of our clothes, the performance was actually a very anti-fashion statement on an ever-escalating culture of consumption and a fashion industry mind-numbingly obsessed with the new. For Swinton, the sentiment was certainly genuine. Asked if she dislikes fast-fashion, she smiled subtly and said, "I don't even really know what it is. I'm pretty slow in every department."


Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Alessio Costantino

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