The legendary designer on the new launch and what’s next.
There are wild stories about Tom Ford interviews. The man is as mythological as his brand—known for sleek glamour of the ultimate old-school Hollywood variety. He’s fashion’s King of Sex. And he’s famous for being a perfectionist with an attention to detail rivaling Stanley Kubrick (not to mention all his fellow Virgos). Editing his films frame by frame, and zooming in to amplify a shade of cantaloupe to give it the ideal tone; getting down on one knee, impeccably mannered, to ask Stella McCartney to be his son’s godparent. He painted the tractors on his ranch all black to complement his black horses and black Angus cattle. He does not wear sneakers.
Partially because of this folklore, but mainly of his legacy, I was quite nervous when I called Mr. Ford in Los Angeles the other week. Perhaps more than any other living designer, he’s a legend of the culture-shaping variety. He has not just created immaculate, richly impactful garments and accessories, first at Gucci then at YSL and with his own brand, but arguably, has influenced the very way in which we collectively perceive sexuality and desire. His films—quiet, beautiful, devastating, as emotively nuanced as they are visually rich—are his true lasting imprint.
My grandmother wore Tom Ford. She was both incredibly traditional and deeply transgressive of so many long-standing conventions of how a woman should be. (She went to law school in the 1940s and later drove a 1969 Jaguar E-Type and for many decades, a 1971 SL—not your typical grandma.) You know a Tom Ford woman when you see one.
Soon, Ford will release his second book, Tom Ford 002. It is a follow-up to his first offering, the black-and-white coffee-table favorite chronologizing his years at Gucci and seen in the living rooms of everyone from Kim Kardashian to an almost endless array of interiors influencers. (Apparently, it was banned from the pages of House Beautiful because it was so ubiquitous among the beautiful homes profiled.) The new tome is a visual remembrance of the 15 years after Ford left Gucci Group. It delves into his entrance into fragrance and beauty, his return to design, and his entrée into filmmaking. The pages are filled with celebrity moments, lush images, and unforgettable editorials and advertising campaigns. (Look for a bottle of Black Orchid held between two breasts, as well as Ford, in his signature three-piece suit, buffing the behind of a blond male model twin—sexual, yes, but injected with humor.) An interview with Bridget Foley spans introspective topics, including how Ford came to terms with his identity after leaving Gucci, his relationship to addiction and sobriety, and how fatherhood has shifted his approach to life and design. Film stills and behind-the-scenes shots from A Single Man and Nocturnal Animals are hand-selected by Ford. It’s honestly the ideal holiday gift (to give a very chic person or, frankly, yourself).
When I call him in Los Angeles from London, Ford is a gentleman in the true sense. He makes me feel comfortable (a depth of good manners, which supersedes perfect posture and opening doors). We talk about making Tom Ford 002, the intimacy of his work, and his evolving relationship to sustainability.
First of all, it’s really an honor to speak with you, and I really appreciate your time.
[Laughs.] Oh, I don’t know that it’s an honor. It’s fascinating, because I’ve been doing interviews this morning, and you live in London, I believe, and you write for a U.S. publication, and I just did one in New York, but it’s a Berlin publication. I miss London. I’m jealous of you being there. I mean, I love Los Angeles and it’s a beautiful, sunny day, but I miss so much the people and the culture. They’re just very different in L.A.
It certainly is. I’m from Hawaii originally, so I’m moving farther and farther to colder and darker places. But I do like it here.
It’s great. I lived there for 20 years, and I miss it. Anyway, the book.
Go ahead and ask me whatever you would like.
I’ll just jump right in. I would love to hear a little bit about the process of making the book. You’re making a history, you’re curating moments and images from this entire period: What was significant to you?
Well, the reason I wanted to do the book was I don’t look back. I look forward. The moment I turn my back on the runway, I’m thinking about the next collection. What am I going to do? Will I be able to think of something that is good or valid or interesting?
When I started working on the book, my company was 15 and I was turning 60. It was interesting, because I could so easily remember everything that was happening to me at that time in my life. I look at a dress or a piece of menswear or a photograph and think, “Oh yeah, I was living there, I was doing this. That’s why I designed this. This is what was going on in my personal life, this was what was going on in my business life.” … So it was very cathartic and reflective.
I’ve worked on it during COVID. The way I work on everything is somewhat intuitive. I literally had thousands and thousands of images, and I had everyone in my office print them up, so I had boxes and boxes and boxes of pictures, because while I look at things online—I live online like a lot of us do—photographs, for some reason, I need to see printed out. I just went through them. I did it very fast. Anything that grabbed my eye, I would throw into the pile that made it in.
The first edit was probably 1,000 pages long, and then I reduced that to 700, then I eventually got it down to 400. I have to say at the end of it I felt very proud. Often, I think, Well, what have I done the last 15 years? And when I realize that I’ve created this brand and had a child and made two films, at the end of it, I thought, Okay, wow. I did something. I’m also the kind of person who likes to file things away and move on, so it was nice to put that 15 years into a slip cover and at age 60 start the next chapter. It was very much a chapter of my life.
You speak about starting out at 1,000 pages and working down, but were there any images that immediately really stood out?
Oh, yeah! Those were the ones that ended up in the book. It was hard to get it down! Because there were 700 that stood out or even 1,000 that stood out. But the ones that really stood out are in the book.
You’ve had such a strong impact on our collective perceptions of glamour and sexuality. How has your relationship to these concepts changed over time, especially in the period we’re looking at in the book?
I think my taste has gone from a more literal sexuality to more of a sensuality. But honestly, you get to give the world your taste once, and I did that in the ’90s. My taste hasn’t changed. Yes, times have changed, so my taste has evolved. Things change a little bit, meaning a silhouette will change, a shoulder will change, a skirt length will change, a shoe heel will change. And the way people dress has changed, obviously. I think people dress more today in items than they did in a head-to-toe look in the ’90s or early 2000s.
But I think it’s important to be who you are and to be true to yourself. And so, there is definitely a thread that runs through everything I do that hasn’t changed. I think it’s one reason that people still wear my clothes from the ’90s. It’s also what gives a brand its personality. If you think about Prada for example—and I love Miuccia, and I love what she does—there is a consistency, season after season after season, after season after season. You see absolute consistency. You know it’s Prada. The same was with Karl [Lagerfeld] and what he did at Chanel. That Chanel suit—how many times have we seen it over and over and over and over? That’s what makes a brand iconic. It’s really important to stay true to yourself.
In the interview with Bridget Foley, you talk about your favorite red-carpet moment: Gwyneth Paltrow and the white cape at the 2012 Academy Awards. Could you talk about one or two others you included?
I don’t think the importance of the book is specific images. I think it’s the overall message. One of my favorite pictures is Jay-Z onstage, because it was just such an amazing and strange thing to have someone like Jay-Z write a song about you and to be in a stadium where you heard thousands and thousands of people chanting your name. It was real and bizarre and also incredible! As I said in my interview with Bridget, I’ve been very, very lucky in life. You have to know which doors have opened for you to go through. There is certainly something inside yourself that guides you through those lucky moments, but I have had a lot of lucky moments.
I’m curious about your relationship to sustainability.
Really since I had my son—I suppose this sounds like a cliché—I’ve become much more aware of the fact that I’m really just a link in the chain. You become aware of the world in a different way. I started by hearing an actor on a talk show talking about how plastic straws were destroying our planet. I remember thinking, “Well, that’s just crazy. Plastic straws? How could that be?” Well, once I did some research, I found out, wow, okay. That’s actually real. The number of plastic straws that are generated, what they do to our planet. And the first thing I did was switch to metal straws, and that then really has spilled over to the fact that we don’t use any single-use plastics in our house, we don’t use any plastic wrap, we use all of our water in cans.
The same with my company. I’ve made an ocean plastic watch, which is something I am proud of. The clothes I make, the products I make, are not disposable. They are expensive, they are mostly made in Italy from natural fibers, but they are not meant to be thrown away. They’re meant to be worn, and then if you can manage to maintain your shape, you can wear them for your life. When you’re finished wearing them, you either give them to your kids or your grandkids, or you send them to a vintage shop where they are auctioned or sold, sometimes for more than they cost originally. And all of my things are made in factories in Italy by people who are very well paid and have great medical and vacation benefits. So in terms of ethical fashion of what I actually produce, I feel that we do a good job with that.
I’d love to talk about your films. You mentioned that you have a cinematic project that you would be interested in bringing to life. I’m not sure if you can talk at all about what that might be. More broadly, I’m curious about the types of stories you are looking to tell.
I can’t speak specifically about what I’m writing at the moment. God knows when I’ll finish it or when I’ll have the time to make it—well, actually I’ll have a couple things—but it is another very personal story, told in a fictitious way.
But I think it’s very important, whatever story you tell—or at least it is for me—that you’re able to make it personal. Otherwise, why are you telling the story? It has to be something that speaks to you.
My first film, A Single Man, was highly personal. I grafted my personality onto that of Christopher Isherwood, because I took certain themes of the original book, and then blew them up so they became the principal message behind the film.
I did the same with Nocturnal Animals. Amy Adams’s character was very, very different in the book. In a sense, she became my alter ego in that film. I highlighted a thing I’ve struggled with in life, which is materialism over the importance of the people in your life. I think whatever you make as a filmmaker, those are the things that resonate.
By the way, that is not so different from what resonates in fashion. You have to be true to yourself. You can’t fake it. You can’t make something because you think it was the right thing to make at a certain time and not really believe in it. Then, it doesn’t resonate with the customer or with the person looking at it.
And I think the same is equally true, if not more so, in film. You put an enormous part of your personality out there to be ripped apart, criticized, lauded. The same is true in fashion. A painter does it with his paintings and a photographer with their photographs. Those things come from inside.
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This article originally appeared on harpersbazaar.com