An Ode To Tilda Swinton (& Elegant Androgyny)

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tildaPhoto: BEImages/Gregory Pace.


Scottish alien. Ice queen. Beautiful boy. The color of a cloud. Yes, if you looked up Tilda Swinton in the dictionary, these are all definitions you’d find. The actress, artist, and style icon turned 53 last week, but you'd hardly know it. Possessed with an other-worldly air, noble forehead, and those piercing-blue eyes, she's an icon who could as easily be 16 as 160. She's forever eerily ageless to us and effortlessly cool, at that.

So cool, in fact, that last week the likes of David Bowie, Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour, Sofia Coppola, and every other chicly awesome person in the universe showed up at a MoMA gala to honor her. Yeah, these things only happen in our dreams. Even Bloomberg chose to stop by the event instead of watching the election votes roll in to name his successor. If you didn't get the memo, she's kind of a big deal.

In film, there are actresses and artists who happen to be awesome at acting. Swinton is the latter. A peculiar creature of the screen, she's able to star in mainstream movies (like her Oscar-winning role in Michael Clayton) yet keep a toe dipped in the offbeat (like Wes Anderson's films). From her role as the gender-switching Elizabethan character in Orlando to an unhappy wife in an Italian household in I Am Love to the terrifying white witch in The Chronicles of Narnia, she truly knows no typecasting. And, her chilling portrayal as the guilt-ridden mother in We Need to Talk About Kevin only confirmed we were right to be obsessed. Remember when she took a nap in a glass box for eight hours in the MoMA? Snoozing on unfazed even when a man beat the sides of the box yelling, “Wake up stupid cow!” Or, how about when she ran through the aisles of an auditorium and led 1,500 people in a dance in honor of Roger Ebert? Yeah, she's awesome.

While some women may yearn for Blake Lively's mermaid waves or Zooey Deschanel's brunette bangs, I've had a longtime lust after “The Tilda Whoosh.” The way her hair just floats back in a helmet sort of way — severe, yet soft, and very confident. And, while so many women use their hair as a security blanket, hers is truly a weapon.

And, then there's her style. A former poster girl for Chanel and Pringle of Scotland ad campaigns, Tilda makes even a shapeless black-velvet trash-bag dress look chic on the red carpet. Plus, she works a pantsuit like a boss. Her choices range from drape-like, silky sacks to harsh, structural suits — a master of choosing cool proportions and wearing them with confidence.

However, I didn't always admire or aspire to this sort of warrior-statue vibe. In college, one of my best guy friends said I could definitely pass as a boy if I wanted to. (Still not sure where this was coming from.) That characterization is a helpful thing if I ever found myself in a Twelfth Night sort of situation, but deep down I have to admit I was miffed to his open acknowledgment of my strong jawline and boyish figure. I just hadn't figured out there was this thing about androgynous elegance. I assumed I had to dress very sweetly if I had short hair to balance things out.

Fast-forward a few years, and I've definitely learned a thing or two. Whether I practice it is another thing, but I know that mixing masculine and feminine pieces can be so sexy. Elegance is a good haircut, a great white pantsuit, a powerful red lipstick. It's about owning your rather large forehead with your hair swooshed back.

Tilda, you helped with that a bit. Keep doing your thing. It’s great.