Tom Ford belongs to another era: an era in which things are created to last, and great taste and charisma are social currency. While at Gucci and YSL, he led the fashion trends of the late nineties and early 2000s with his sexually charged aesthetic. Now, for his own line, he is taking a more measured approach — though the result is no less iconic.
Alice Cavanagh: You once said that when you were five you wanted to be 50. What is a five-year-old who wants to be 50 like?
Tom Ford: Crazy, actually. It was lucky for me that I had understanding parents who nurtured my personality, as I was not really the typical five-year-old. I think that I was always very self-possessed and very sure of what I wanted from a very young age.
You’ve described yourself as a shy and introspective person, yet you became one of the celebrity designers. In the current age of fashion figures as celebrities, is it possible to succeed without a little bit of spotlight?
No. In today’s world one needs a bit of the spotlight to succeed. I have sort of a split personality: In my personal life, I am quite shy and prefer being alone to being out or in groups of people. In my professional life, however, I realised early on that it is important that a designer company has a ‘voice’, and that voice comes, of course, from the designer: from me. A connection with the consumer is key, as the customer is, in a sense, buying the personality and taste of the designer. For that reason, a public persona of some sort is necessary for a fashion designer.
That reminds me of when you once said that getting dressed is kind of like putting on armour. What do you imagine you are protecting yourself from?
I think that getting dressed and grooming oneself gives a person an incredible amount of confidence, and this confidence can help one feel prepared for any situation.
Are you someone who needs to be liked?
Don’t we all long to be liked? Isn’t this a primal desire of humans? I think it is one of the things that drives people to consume luxury goods: the belief that if they look good, people will like them more. In fact, I think that people that are drawn to the fashion business are innately insecure — the same with actors and performers. There is a need to be loved there.
Your collections are presented privately because you don’t like your designs to be influenced by reviews. Do you think many other fashion businesses could function in such a way?
What I am really trying to stay away from is having the pictures of the collection released to the press immediately following the show. Most fashion houses release the images immediately and the customer sees the collection, sees celebrities wearing the clothes, and sees copies of the clothes in high-street chains within a few weeks. By the time the collection hits the stores it seems old. I have therefore chosen to show my collections in a small showroom setting and not to release images to the press until much closer to the date when the clothes hit the stores.
Your aesthetic for Gucci defined the nineties. What aesthetic defines the current decade?
I think that our cultural obsession with trying to define the period that we live in while we are living in it is a bit nuts. We can’t possibly have the perspective to make real judgments about our own time until we are somewhat removed from it and can look back at it with more clarity. Headlines like “The Movie of the Decade!” when it is 2011 make me laugh. Who can possibly know something like that two years into the decade? It is too soon to know what sort of aesthetic defines (or will define) our decade. As a rule, however, each decade is, in a sense, a reaction to the previous decade, so it might follow that this decade will be less about glitz and more about content and quality. But, then again, it might not.
The Gucci years were led by a sexual energy. Where would you draw the line between something sexy, and something pornographic?
I don’t think that sex is offensive and I don’t think that the human body is offensive. In fact, I find them very beautiful, which is why some might say that sex features heavily in my work. I have never understood the fear of the naked body that is prevalent today.
You’ve described your time post-Gucci as a mid-life crisis. How did you turn that around?
I would say that directing my first film, A Single Man, was very cathartic for me. It was, in a sense, my mid-life crisis on screen, and finishing the film allowed me to move forward to the next phase in my life.
The film was a masterpiece — I loved it! People were surprised you went through with it. Were you happy when you proved them wrong?
A Single Man was probably the most personal and fulfilling project I have completed in my life, and it meant a lot to me that the reaction was so positive.
You’re a Virgo, and they are famous perfectionists. Do you make your bed every day?
Every day? Are you kidding? I make it in the middle of the night every time I get up to go to the bathroom!
[Laughs] Is your closet perfectly arranged as well?
Of course my closet is very well-organised; however I think that people would be surprised by how edited my wardrobe is.
Do you think your being a perfectionist can be an irritating thing for others?
I always say to Richard [Buckley, Ford’s long-time partner] that he is lucky that at least he can leave the house sometimes and get away from me, whereas I can’t ever get away from myself or out of my head.
You seem to work non-stop. What do you do when you do take time off?
I am lucky that I enjoy what I do more than anything else in the world. Designing — whether it be clothes, houses, or handbags — is what I love to do. That being said, I do love sports to unwind and, depending on where I am, make a point to hike, play tennis, do yoga, or ski as often as I can.
I know you’ve mentioned in the past that the money, the property, the lifestyle was not enough. What completes the picture for you?
For me, without a shadow of a doubt, my connections with other people are the most important thing in life.
When are you at your happiest then?
I am happiest on my ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with Richard and my horses and dogs.
OK, last question: how would you rate Terry Richardson as a kisser, out of ten?
I don’t think one should kiss and tell.
Interview: Alice Cavanagh