Save Prospect Cottage (with Sandy Powell’s suit)

— by Alyson Walsh

Tilda Swinton signs Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell’s suit for Prospect Cottage campaign. Photo: Matt Alexander/PA Wire


Two of my style heroines in one room at the same time. Tilda Swindon and Sandy Powell. Swoon. So much talent and greatness, and navy blue. Excuse me while I waft myself with a copy of Chroma. For the last few weeks I’ve been contemplating writing about Prospect Cottage, filmmaker, artist and activist Derek Jarman’s Dungeness retreat. The old fisherman’s cottage-turned art sanctuary is now the subject of a campaign to raise money to enable continued public access and launch a programme of artist’s residencies. But should I focus on Jarman’s own enduring style  –  the practical boiler suit, faded workwear, the corduroy jacket – all That’s Not My Age favourites. His pioneering work? Or the lovely garden at Prospect Cottage replete with driftwood sculptures, seashells and against-the-odds plants; the subject of the last book Jarman ever wrote, ‘When he bought it in the 1980s people thought he was completely nuts,’ said Powell,’ It was all shingle and sand and there was a power station right there…’  I was mulling the story angle over for the thousandth time when an invitation from Art Fund pinged into my inbox. Tilda Swinton would be signing Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell’s calico suit at Phillips Auction House and would I like to attend. WOULD I. No need to ask twice.

Derek Jarman in the garden at Prospect Cottage

Following BAFTAs ‘sustainable ceremony 2020’ suggestion, Sandy Powell, nominated for her work on The Irishman, uncovered the toile made for a trouser suit for last year’s Oscars. Armed with a Sharpie, she wore the calico two-piece to this year’s awards ceremonies and asked the great and the good of the film industry to sign the suit to raise money for Prospect Cottage. ‘ It made the Oscars much more fun,’ she smiled, ‘ I plotted my targets – I could see Leonardo DiCaprio sitting next to Brad Pitt – and then ran down the aisle during the break.’ The Oscar-winning costume designer had to very quickly explain the campaign to actors and directors – suit signees include: Robert de Niro, Saoirse Ronan, Bong Joon-Ho, Scarlett Johanssen and Laura Dern who apparently is planning to visit Prospect Cottage next time she’s in London. ‘This is deeply personal, Derek Jarman gave me my first job. How generous of him. He wanted to encourage young people, and now with the residency we’d like to encourage young people, too.’



Jarman who died in 1994, bequeathed Prospect Cottage to his companion Keith Collins. And now, after Collins’ death, Art Fund is raising money together with Creative Folkestone and Tate, in order to conserve Prospect Cottage, Jarman’s archive, and more importantly help turn it into an artist’s residence and creative hub. So far, 75% of the £3.5 million target money has been raised, ‘ People ask  “Why does it cost so much?”‘ mused Tilda Swinton, a long-standing friend of Jarman’s who worked with him on seven films and helped launch the campaign to Save Prospect Cottage,  ‘ It’s about maintaining the milieu and energy of the place. What we dream of is some inspiring, enlightened rich person buying the suit and then donating it to the museum. Obviously, the enlightened rich person could keep the suit but Derek Jarman was all about the process and not about things. We want to keep the cottage and the suit in the culture so it continues to inspire.’ After signing Sandy Powell’s suit lapel, Swinton concurred with the designer about Jarman’s influence and generosity, ‘ We were lucky babies, we got to do it with Derek, and we visualise many more lucky babies out there who can plug into the battery, as well.’


The online auction runs until next Wednesday, HERE.  if you’d like to see the Sandy Powell suit, Phillips is open to the public from 4- 11 March, 30 Berkeley Square, London, 10am – 6pm. All donations to the Art Fund campaign are welcome, HERE (the Save Prospect Cottage campaign ends on 31 March 2020).

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  Two of my style heroines in one room at the same time. Tilda Swindon and Sandy Powell.