Tom Ford is a man who knows his worth and makes no apologies for it. There is a dysfunctional relationship with the value that should be placed on being human. Arrogance is one thing; knowing exactly what you are capable of is another. The former has a price; the latter has value.
Oscar Wilde once said, “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” Valuing art and culture is something we need to relearn, as there’s a danger of paying too high a price. Tom Ford not only knows his worth but also recognizes the worth of others. It’s no coincidence that his artistic talent expanded from fashion to film production and directing. His directorial debut was sublime. “A Single Man” exudes elegance in wardrobe, settings, every shot, and of course, through actors Julianne Moore and Colin Firth. One might think Ford simply wanted to train his artistic gifts on the big screen, but the truth is that he fell in love with the seventh art and returned to directing with great prowess in “Nocturnal Animals,” a film vastly different from his debut, delving into the darker aspects of human nature.
Thomas Carlyle Ford was born on August 27, 1961, in Austin, Texas. Both his parents – Tom Ford, Sr. and Shirley Bunton – were real estate agents, which led the designer to spend much of his childhood at his grandparents’ ranch in Brownwood. One of his favorite pastimes back then was lying by his grandparents’ pool, and he became interested in art, like painting, at an early age. Ford recalls these memories as that of an image artist – “I’ve always been very visual, always interested in design. That doesn’t mean I started drawing clothes at the age of 5, but if my parents went out to dinner, I would spend the evening rearranging all the furniture in the living room before they got back home.” Ford’s parents had a significant influence on nurturing his appreciation for all arts. If he wanted to paint, they’d be the first to find a painting teacher for him.
His primary muses for the fashion world were initially his mother and grandmother. Ford remembers his mother as a woman of extreme classical elegance, while his paternal grandmother embodied Texas-style glamour, bold and showy, whether in jewelry or cars. It was precisely these two styles, his mother’s and grandmother’s, that Ford would later combine to reinvent and save the Gucci brand from bankruptcy in the mid 90s.
At 17, Ford finished high school and enrolled at NYU (New York University) in 1979, majoring in Art History. During his time at the university, he discovered the famous Studio 54, where he became a regular and put his studies on the back burner. After a year, he left university and moved to Los Angeles, where he took on some acting jobs. The money he earned during this period later made it possible for him to enroll at the Parsons School of Design, where he initially studied Architecture but quickly realized it wasn’t the right path. He switched his major to Fashion and studied at the Parsons School of Design campus in Paris.
As soon as he graduated, in 1985, Ford sought employment with Cathy Hardwick, a sportswear designer. To get the job, Ford called Hardwick’s office every day for a month straight. This persistence made him the brand we know today. At the time, Hardwick was convinced she wouldn’t give him a chance, but after asking about his favorite European designers, she was convinced and decided to hire Ford. He mentioned Armani and Chanel as his favorites. Months later, out of curiosity, Hardwick asked Ford why he mentioned Armani, to which he replied, “Because you were wearing an Armani piece.” This survival spirit would be Gucci’s salvation.
Tom Ford arrived at the Italian brand in 1994, and Gucci would never be the same. With his rebellion and irreverence, he conquered a market that seemed lost forever. He completely overhauled the outdated image of the brand, replacing minimalism with retro-inspired looks that oozed sex appeal. Additionally, Ford expanded Gucci’s business into men’s and women’s sportswear, formal wear, and home decor. Still under Ford’s leadership, Gucci made a strategic move that fueled remarkable growth by acquiring the prestigious Yves Saint Laurent. With the French brand under the Gucci group and Ford’s leadership, the company’s annual sales exponentially increased from $230 million to $3 billion. Under Ford’s Midas touch, the Gucci house also welcomed brands like Sergio Rossi, Bottega Veneta, and Balenciaga. However, Gucci’s acquisition by the Pinault Group in 2004 led to the departure of its prodigy. In 2005, the designer launched his own brand – Tom Ford – presenting a collection of men’s fashion, eyewear, and beauty products. The Tom Ford brand gained almost immediate visibility in the market when Ford himself posed for the 2006 Vanity Fair issue dressed in his brand’s clothes, with actresses Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson naked by his side.
Tom Ford is constantly reinventing himself, and it’s precisely this ability that makes him one of the giants in the international fashion world.
“I think I’m hyperaware that people think I’m selfish, but there’s a difference between being selfish and knowing your own value as a product and as an actor. I know my value as a product, and I’ve divorced myself as a human being from myself as a product.” – Tom Ford
By Ana Cristina Valente