Fashion designer and director Tom Ford talks with editor of Grazia, Paula Reed
Wearing an immaculate black suit with wide lapels, a double vent and a traditionally thick tie, Tom Ford took his seat on the small stage and seemed at complete ease with the room. He smiled warmly at the small audience before him. It really was a conversation between friends, only instead of a cuppa and a small kitchen, they had lights, cameras and the Regent Street Apple Store to contend with.
The man was witty, down to earth and charming, everything that oozes from his appearance is backed up by personality. In his youth, Ford studied to be an architect before going into acting, followed by a career in fashion. One could say that he made a wild career change, but Ford went on to describe the art of designing clothes, specifically shoes, as architecture in itself. A shoe needs support and structure, does it not? “I am an architect… The idea of building something, making something, constructing something.” The audience fell in love with his passion, his drive and his clear vision of the world. He spoke in such a way that I felt he must have been looking at the room somewhat differently than the rest of us. He spoke momentarily about needing a connection to the universe, hence why he lives out on a ranch in Santa Fey, spending his birthday weekend out in the wilderness with friends. When asked about his ranch he said: “I feel less alone even though I’m completely alone.”
It seems incredible to me that a man so wrapped up in the fast-paced world of fashion could have such a spiritual outlook on life. He mentioned that he had tried to retire once for a few months. He played golf, got bored, then realised that those who retire tend to die fairly soon afterwards. “I want to work until the day I drop dead!” He said that with such vigour and determination, I feel that many people in the audience were inspired to take that bit of advice.
Tom Ford has certainly had the luxury of discovering what he loves in his life via dabbling and getting involved in many aspects of the creative world. “I arrived in an Armani jacket, Calvin Klein jeans and cowboy boots because I’d been reading GQ in 1997 and that was the look. And I was prepared for New York! Calvin Klein jeans although they were very chic at the time were maybe a bit tight. That helped my career too…” To go from that to being the creative director of Gucci and YSL could be perceived to be both surprising yet inevitable, depending on how you perceive his viciously cool personality. It makes me wonder if his family ever saw it all coming. On growing up in Texas he said: “I knew I had to get out. I knew it (New York) was the place for me to go. I knew I had to leave.”
Ford defined those years as creative director by the black angular motion of the 90s, running into a spot of bother with Maurizio Gucci, who tried to hold on to the round browns of 60s Italia. Those situations can be considered life’s little tests; do you push forward with your vision or step back? “Of course I doubt myself. Constantly…you’re constantly doubting yourself. You constantly have to question yourself.” I think that level of doubt, followed by taking a leap of faith is something that has helped Ford in his success.
Reed pressed him, asking about what he felt was necessary in life to succeed. “I would say it’s a combination of talent and hard work but I’d say it’s slanted towards hard work. Slanted towards obsession. There are many designers who have much greater talent as a designer than I do, but they may not have my drive, they may not work as hard, they may not have the focus, the desire… You have to have a talent because at the end of the day, if the pants you design don’t make someone’s butt look great they’re not going to buy them. So you have to have the talent to be able to make something that people want.” As much as he clearly has a striking amount of confidence, everyone comes up against bad reviews and in fashion these tend to come around extraordinarily quickly. Often at this point the designer is very much a raw and open wound, having just sent out their collection into the world to be judged alone. “…Because often a bad review is right and those hurt in a different way because you know in your heart what you’re reading is right. …of course they hurt.” Fortunately, something like a bad review has never stopped him.
A wonderful moment for most of the audience was when Ford said that the real fashion talent of the world comes from London. “I still find it the most inspirational city.” He went on to praise how eccentricity was both admired and respected, as is individuality, something that the rest of the world are only just beginning to catch up with. “Americans are afraid of style.” A slight footnote on the English: “Drinking here… you DRINK!” Not such a proud moment for the Brits, perhaps?
Tom Ford seems to have a humble respect for fashion and clothing, a severe understanding of both his designs and the consumer. The topic of disposable fashion arose and he made it clear that that was the opposite of what he does; he wants to create clothing that will remain hung up in someone’s wardrobe for 25 years, worn on a regular basis, then passed down on to future generations. This concept of good quality and timelessness suits him to a T. He uses traditionally made fabrics and his clothes are made in Italy. I agree with him that high street fashion and fast fashion should be respected, but that it is far from ideal. His fashion is for his customers first and foremost, especially since he decided not to have a runway show for his most recent collection. “I decided not to do runway shows, because when you do a runway show you have to amp things up in a way so that they read from a great distance – so that they are designed for photography rather than for a consumer. So you can exaggerate things to the point where they don’t actually function in real life for most peoples’ lives. And what I wanted to do was create clothes for real people. I think that’s one reason why so many people in the world have switched off of fashion. They look at it as a spectator sport. They wanna see what everyone is wearing and how it looks, but then they put on their t-shirt and their jeans.”
After just over an hour of listening to Tom Ford, I can safely say that the whole room admired and respected him. His understanding of both the whirlwind fashion world as well as the real world, of finding peace, satisfaction and clarity in all of his endeavors and the utter elegance of his appearance, speech and mannerisms make him something quite extraordinary. Tom Ford is a man who has worked to earn his position in the world and it is clear that it suits him very well indeed.