From his single-handed revitalisation of Gucci to his innovative approach to the aesthetics of cinema, Tom Ford is a man of many accomplishments. However, his greatest achievement may be a much more personal reinvention.
This is the new Tom Ford: as impeccably dressed and preternaturally good looking as ever, but newly approachable, funny and self-deprecating, embracing what he calls his “spiritual side”. That’s not to say that he is suddenly going to kick back and take things easy. Since leaving Gucci, the label that made him famous, in 2004, the man has not only established an international bespoke menswear business, created 24 fragrances and designed everything from sunglasses to a Villa Moda khandoura: he has also written and directed a critically acclaimed film and is contemplating returning to womenswear.
He was a star, and GUCCI was transformed from a maker of high-quality but frumpy bags and loafers into a huge fashion player that would later, with the luxury-goods conglomorate PPR, go on a buying spree of companies from Yves Saint Laurent (of which Ford was also head designer) to Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney.
The corporatisation of the luxury market was also the movement that would see Ford lose creative control of the brand, resulting in an acrimonious departure from Gucci in 2004, taking with him Gucci Group NV’s president and CEO Domenico de Sole, who is now the chairman of Tom Ford International.
Ford vowed that he would not return to fashion, and he has made no secret of the difficulty he had dealing with this sudden change in his life – a change that is behind the new, improved Tom Ford we see today. “I really didn’t think I was going to go back to fashion, but I was in a moment of just extreme burnout, quite honestly. I had been doing 16 collections a year for Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci, and I worked so hard for so long. And I love designing, but the business of fashion? Mmm. Not so much.”
”A Single Man” – directed by Tom Ford
The film which is an adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s novel with the same name presents a day in the life of college professor George, played brilliantly by Colin Firth, who struggles to hold his life together after the sudden death of his lover of 16 years, Jim (Matthew Goode). Julianne Moore portrays George’s friend Charley, a gorgeously turned out, hard-drinking matron on the precipice of decline, who longs to rekindle the brief romance the two shared many years before. The film premiered in September at the Venice Film Festival, where it garnered a 10-minute standing ovation, the best actor prize for Firth (now the subject of major Oscar buzz) and lavish praise for its neophyte director. “Tom Ford gets it spectacularly right,” wrote Screen International. “An impressive helming debut,” offered Variety. And from the Times Online: “A thing of heart-stopping beauty…. Tom Ford is the real deal.”
“Womenswear is very much about where our culture is at a particular moment,” he says. “Women in our society and what they wear are a physical expression: if we’re in a very flashy glittery moment, women are wearing flash. If we’re in a calm, more sedate, more introspective moment, it’s reflected in clothing. Men dress pretty much the same way all the time. It changes slightly, which is also one of the interesting things about designing it, because you have a very narrow framework in which to work. Menswear for me is very much about the cut, the quality.” “I haven’t quite come to terms with making the commitment of coming back to women’s fashion. I love the designing, but all the sort of craziness that goes into shows and the very inside quality of a very few people thinking that the world revolves around your type of heel and look for that season – I don’t want to go back to that.”
Two years before leaving Gucci, Ford experienced “a pretty intense midlife crisis,” which happened to coincide with his 40th birthday. “I started to sink emotionally, spiritually. I became a little bit lost. Leaving Gucci, it intensified because I had been able to cling to my job and to my work and to my identity as a successful fashion designer, and all of a sudden that was gone. It forced me to really think, Well, what am I, who am I, what am I about? It took me a bit of time to figure that out. I think this happens to most people in their life if they’re insightful enough to indulge it and to get through to the other side.”
“I don’t think of myself as gay. That doesn’t mean that I’m not gay. I just don’t define myself by my sexuality,” says Tom Ford with no sense of irony in his voice. Ford built a fashion empire at Gucci. When Yves Saint Laurent was acquired by Gucci in 1999, he reinvented that brand. Since then he has launched his own Tom Ford line of menswear and accessories. Always, throughout his career, whole collections and marketing campaigns were designed around his highly honed sense of the needs of others to define themselves as sexual beings.
“The gay aspect of A Single Man certainly wasn’t what drew me to make a film of the Christopher Isherwood book. It was its human aspect, that unifying quality,” he continues, segueing into a discussion of his remarkable directorial debut. The film, which was nominated for the Golden Lion top prize at the Venice film festival, and for which Ford won Venice’s Queer Lion prize and Colin Firth the best actor award, opens in limited release December 11.
“If you said name 10 things that define me, being gay wouldn’t make the list. I think Isherwood was like that too. There are many gay characters in his works because his work is so autobiographical, but their gayness isn’t the focus. The one thing I liked about Isherwood’s work—especially when I was younger and grappling with my sexuality—is that there was no issue about it in his writing. That was quite a modern concept back during the time when he was writing. Quite honestly, I just don’t think about my sexuality. But maybe this has to do with being a part of the first generation to benefit from all the struggles of the gay men and lesbians that came before us.”
“I’m saddled with too much stuff in my life, and the time it takes to manage it—I’m a slave to it,” he says. “We have a six-floor house in London. I’d love to have a flat where Richard and I could live in a more intimate way. I started with nothing. Richard and I used to live on St. Marks Place [in New York], above Café Orlin, and in a lot of ways we were just as happy, if not happier. We cooked dinner together and we lived in a tighter environment, and I would like—and we have made real efforts—to live that way again.” Which is not to say this die-hard realist thinks he can reinvent the romantic, upwardly mobile poverty of his youth. “But we can live in a very glamorous giant one-bedroom flat where we both have our own bathrooms and dressing rooms and where we actually make our own dinner in the kitchen and don’t need six floors and an elevator and don’t have to page each other to find each other in the house. We page each other. ‘Richard, where are you? Pick up. I’m on….’ There are two of us and two dogs on six floors. It’s silly.”
“People crack me up when they say, ‘Let’s hang out’,” he marvels, adopting a dopey voice to demonstrate the pointlessness of such an exercise. “I don’t know what that is! I can’t wander around aimlessly, like, ‘Oh, let’s go here…’ I can’t do that. I have to have a schedule. So if I’m going to relax, I know that I have two hours to relax on this day, from this time to that time.” Of course, while he willingly laughs at his own foibles, Ford knows that this is just the sort of statement that will confirm the suspicions of those who decry the designer for his unsentimental view of fashion.
from The Advocate, W Magazine, The National
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