Tilda Swinton is perched in an aerie of a suite in a luxury hotel whose puzzling layout she compares to an Escher drawing. She’s wearing a white button-down, a sweeping black skirt of intimidating circumference, and a massive ear cuff that clenches her lobe like a claw.
She may have fearless style in real life, but in Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash, which opens today, the actress plays one of the most subdued-looking rock stars in recent memory. In flashbacks, her character, Marianne Lane, is shown in Bowie-esque sequined jumpsuits, but on the Italian vacation that takes up most of the film, she sticks to minimalist designs with a hint of the 1950s. “You’re very domesticated for a rock star,” Dakota Johnson’s nymphet character tells her at one point.
In creating the character’s persona, Swinton told the Cut, “That feeling of surprise and overturned expectations was something we really wanted to find. If you have spent a while in a sequined jumpsuit in front of 70,000 people, I can completely understand why one might want to wear a very modest, zipped-up Raf Simons coatdress.” To give Marianne a sense of vulnerability, many of the looks featured low-cut backs, for what Swinton calls “that feeling of sun on the neck.”
Marianne is grieving the death of her mother throughout the film. Says Swinton, who took on the role not long after her own mother passed away, “She’s doing this thing, which I’ve experienced myself and I’ve seen in many of my friends [as] a part of mourning: being drawn to the aesthetic of her mother. I certainly noticed it in myself when my mother died. I wore scarves for a certain period of time and I wore her shirts. In many ways, it was unconscious. I didn’t choose it, it was just something that occurred.”
Everything was custom-made specifically for the character, except for the sequined jumpsuit from the concert scenes, which was a Dior piece that Simons adapted for the movie. “The inspiration is Tilda herself,” Simons said in an email. “I find her ultimately inspiring. I’m always happy to think about Tilda, so it comes naturally to design for her or her characters.” That said, “I don’t see her as a muse, I think there are almost no more muses. She is like David Bowie — otherwordly, beautiful, unique, and inspiring.”
“There was something really interesting about having someone with his precision working on a character,” Swinton says. “You know, you get used to a designer talking about a collection. Very often they’ll say, ‘This is for a certain woman.’ But usually a collection has to cater to more than one woman. My sense was that Raf really enjoyed the luxury of focusing on not only one woman but on one trajectory of her development.”
As for Simons’s next cinematic avenue, he isn’t ruling anything out. “Film costuming? Maybe,” he said. “Film? Yes, very interested.”