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Tom Ford: The Fashion Genie

by Aparajita Jaiswal

May 1, 2021

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Among many of our favourite luxury brand designers, Thomas Carlyle Ford, an American fashion designer and filmmaker, is truly one of the most inspiring and looked upon creators of fashion. He launched his eponymous luxury brand in 2006, having previously served as the creative director at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. Ford currently also serves as the Chairman of the Board of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

Tom Ford had quite the journey, figuring out his interests. At age 16, he enrolled at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, but quickly dropped out. He moved to New York City to study art history at New York University where he met Ian Falconer, who took him to Studio 54 for the first time, spiking his interest in acting and directing. Ford dropped out after a year, focusing on acting in television commercials.

Ford began studying interior architecture at The New School’s art and design college, Parsons, in New York City. He kept visiting Studio 54, where he realized he was gay. The club’s disco-era glamor ended up being a major influence on his later designs. Before his last year at New School, Ford spent a year and a half in Paris, where he worked as an intern in Chloé’s press office, inspiring his interest in fashion. He spent his final year at The New School studying fashion, but graduated with a degree in architecture.

In an interview with The New York Times, Ford said, “If I was ever going to become a good designer, I had to leave America. My own culture was inhibiting me. Too much style in America is tacky. It’s looked down upon to be too stylish. Europeans, however, appreciate style.”

At the time, Italian fashion house Gucci was struggling financially and was seeking to strengthen its women’s ready-to-wear presence as a part of a brand overhaul. The company’s creative director, Dawn Mello hired Ford as the brand’s chief women’s ready-to-wear designer in 1990 and Ford moved to Milan. “I was talking to a lot of people, and most didn’t want the job,” Mello said. “For an American designer to move to Italy to join a company that was far from being a brand would have been pretty risky.”

Ford’s role at Gucci rapidly expanded; he was designing menswear within six months, and shoes soon after that. He also took over Richard Lambertson left as design director in 1992, heading the brand’s ready-to-wear, fragrances, image, advertising, and store design. In 1993, when he was in charge of designing eleven product lines, Ford worked eighteen-hour days. Although there were creative tensions between Ford and Maurizio Gucci, the company’s chairman and 50% owner, inspiring Maurizio Gucci wanted to fire Ford, Domenico De Sole insisted that he remain. Nonetheless, Ford’s work during the early 1990s was primarily behind the scenes; his contributions to Gucci were overshadowed by those of Mello, who was the company’s public face.

In 1994, Ford was promoted to Creative Director of Gucci. By 1999, the house, which had been almost bankrupt when Ford joined, was valued at more than $4 billion. When Gucci acquired the house of Yves Saint Laurent in 1999, Ford was named Creative Director of that label as well.

In April 2004, Ford parted ways with the Gucci group after he and CEO Domenico de Sole, who is credited as Ford’s partner in Gucci’s success, failed to agree with Pinault Printemps Redoute’s boss over control of the Group. He has since referred to this experience as “devastating” and as a “midlife crisis” because he had “put everything into that for fifteen years”. When Ford left in 2004, Gucci Group was valued at $10 billion, hiring four individuals to split the work Ford had done.

After leaving Gucci, Ford launched a line of menswear, beauty, eyewear, and accessories in 2006, named after himself, “Tom Ford”. De Sole became chairman of the label. Ford has described “the Tom Ford customer” as international, cultured, well-traveled, and possessing disposable income. For women, he added “strong and intelligent women who know their own style”.

From the time we’re born until we die, we’re kept busy with artificial stuff that isn’t important. Tom Ford

First Lady Michelle Obama wore an ivory floor-length evening gown designed by Ford to Buckingham Palace in 2011. He has also dressed Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anne Hathaway, Daniel Craig, Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, Ryan Gosling, Will Smith, Julianne Moore, Hugh Jackman, Jon Hamm, and Henry Cavill. Ford designed Daniel Craig’s suits for his last three James Bond films: Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, and Spectre.

Jay Z released a song titled “Tom Ford” with “Tom Ford” rapped numerous times within the song. Ford responded that he was flattered and “it means that one has really penetrated and made an impact on popular culture.” Following the song’s release, Ford received a huge spike in online search engine queries.

Ford has been called a “fashion icon” and a “style icon” and he was included in “All-TIME 100 Fashion Icons” list. Ford has been included in several best-dressed lists, such as International Best Dressed List,The Guardian’s “The 50 best-dressed over-50s”, and British GQ’s “50 Best Dressed Men in Britain 2015”. He was featured on the cover of the 2011 spring/summer issue of Another Man, giving his opinion on what makes the modern day gentleman. He won several awards including several VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards and Council of Fashion Designers of America.

Ford is known for sexy clothes, making provocative statements, and creating racy advertisements. Ford’s designs convey a “sophisticated sex appeal” and he has been credited for “bringing sexy back”. His advertisement campaigns have drawn controversy for use of nudity and “provocative sexual imagery”. Ford is also known to pose with celebrities and models in his ad campaigns.

Ford is not only a designer but also a creative artist. Ford directed the Academy Award-nominated films A Single Man and Nocturnal Animals. In March 2005, Ford announced the launch of his film production company, Fade to Black. In 2009 he made his directorial debut with A Single Man, based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Isherwood. The drama stars Colin Firth as an LA-based, gay college professor, alongside Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult and Matthew Goode. The novel was adapted by David Scearce and Ford; Ford was also one of the producers.

In 2015, Ford became attached to direct Nocturnal Animals, an adaptation of the Austin Wright novel Tony and Susan. The film was released in 2016. Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams played the lead roles of Tony and Susan. Michael Shannon, Armie Hammer, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Isla Fisher co-starred in the film. The film received praise from critics, as well as winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

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