Glitz, glamour and Tilda Swinton: my most magical memories from the Venice Film Festival

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Tilda Swinton at the 2018 Venice Film Festival - Getty
Tilda Swinton at the 2018 Venice Film Festival - Getty

The Venice Film Festival is back in action and it’s the first opportunity that any film star has had to parade a red carpet for some little time. It seems a shame that, given this opportunity for a spot of much-needed glitz and glamour, Tilda Swinton chose to wear a pair of baggy brown trousers and matching voluminous overcoat and, of course, a mask. Admittedly the outfit was head-to-toe Chanel but it was hardly flashy. She clearly thought the time isn't right for showing off. 

T’was not always thus. By chance, my one arrival at the Venice Lido for a film showing during the festival, a couple of years ago, coincided with hers. We both stepped out of Riva speedboats which had brought us from the city to the screenings. She sprang lightly out of her water taxi dressed in head-to-toe Chanel couture - a black-and-white glittering column in the evening light - and stood on the pier being photographed by a pack of paparazzi. It was like the high point of a Fellini film.  

Tilda Swinton arriving for the 2020 Venice Film Festival  - Getty
Tilda Swinton arriving for the 2020 Venice Film Festival - Getty

In normal years, the Cannes film festival is a huge commercial jamboree heaving with wheeler dealers doing business in the background. There’s a lot of heavy, obvious sponsorship and the whole place grinds to a halt. During premieres, great queues of cars creep 100 metres in 45 minutes to disgorge their hot, ruffled charges onto a red carpet that, with its intense star wattage, starts to look like Madame Tussauds. 

Venice isn’t like that. For a start everyone is going everywhere by boat and that means even the traffic jams look elegant. No one minds queueing if that means an extra few minutes bobbing about in the lagoon. Secondly, because Venice is all twists and turns and hidden courtyards, huge numbers of film stars can somehow be absorbed into the city and you only catch the occasional glimpse of someone absurdly famous in the bar of the Aman, say, or the Bauer. 

In Venice, the life of the city carried on much as normal. One of my companions on the trip even found time to engage in some heavy flirtation (and perhaps more - who knows what happens on the canals after dark) with a chance-met Old Etonian gondolier. 

Sophia Loren in 1958: the Venice Film Festival has always been a place of glamour - Getty
Sophia Loren in 1958: the Venice Film Festival has always been a place of glamour - Getty

The film both Tilda and I were there to see, was just as luscious as anything we saw while there. It was the re-release of a 1961 surreal mystery classic, Last Year at Marienbad starring Delphine Seyrig as a woman preparing, or not, to run away with her lover from a huge house party. In truth, the stars of the film were all the amazing costumes that had been designed by Chanel.

Cate Blanchett, president of the jury of this 77th film festival, announced that she was only going to be wearing vintage or recycled fashion. She could do a lot worse than mine that particular film’s archive for appropriately fabulous, yet ethical, red-carpet dresses. ​

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