Tom Ford On Fashion: “It’s a Tough, Tough Industry.”

Tom Ford being interviewed by Fern Mallis

I already had the sitter booked so when my friend texted me late Tuesday afternoon that she had an extra ticket to see Tom Ford interviewed by Fern Mallis for her four-part “Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis” at the 92nd Street Y here in NYC that evening, I dropped my other plans to go. I’m no fool. I am totally fascinated by Tom Ford who in my mind is an enigma. I knew he was a genius, but I didn’t know what to expect, which made it that much more enticing.

If you have ever seen “Inside the Actors Studio”  hosted by James Lipton, you pretty much get the idea of the format. However, the ping-pong volley between Tom Ford and Fern Mallis as she asked him questions about his entire life story from pretty much birth until today was so fascinating and entertaining.

I had no idea what Ford’s voice would sound like nor did I know what to expect of his personality and demeanor. I mean, until that evening I thought he was up there with God. Yet, you would think he was an actor. He was not only open and honest, but funny, passionate and self-deprecating. I had heard he was a bit pompous, but I didn’t find him that way at all. He is a classic Virgo admitting he is anal-retentive, can be easily over-stimulated (why he can’t live in NYC) and a total perfectionist. He has mellowed with age and it’s inevitable wisdom. By the way, I never would have guessed he was 51! That man is hot! Anyway, all I can say is his mannerisms and sense of humor were memorizing and I found myself wanting the interview to go on forever. I could have sat there all night. In fact, I hardly moved in my seat.

It all made sense once Ford revealed he had dabbled in acting when he was a teenager. He also filmed several commercials under a stage name, because there was already a Tom Ford in SAG. He wouldn’t share his stage name, so forget about finding them on YouTube.

Anyway, the best way for me to cover the event is to present snippets of some of his quotes and answers to Mallis’ questions. I was a bit uncomfortable when she said he was shy, because I found him anything but. I was also a little taken aback when she asked if he was gay. Who cares? Ford shared minuscule details about his upbringing, career, current solo business and his future plans (which sadly will never include an H&M collection). I admit here that I had to go back on Twitter to remember a few of them. I was so mesmerized at times I forgot to take notes:

On his Austin, Texas roots:

“I put on a cowboy hat and I don’t look stupid. Most people look stupid when they put one on, but it just molds to my head. I look surprisingly good in jeans and a plaid shirt. Perhaps its genetics.”

On being older than his years when he was a child and carrying a briefcase to school (for which he was bullied):

“I also wanted to be 50. I didn’t want to carry a book bag. I thought it looked messy. When you’re 7, a real man’s briefcase is like going to school with luggage.”

On his character of a grandmother:

“She lit up the room when she walked in. She didn’t want to be called Grandma so we called her “Duckie.” She had 6 husbands and would like to think of herself as Liz Taylor, but she was buried with husband #3 because she liked him the best.”

The best advice Duckie ever gave him:

“You have one decision in life, to be happy or to not be happy.”

On the end of his acting/commercial career:

“A hairdresser on the set of a Prell commercial said to me ‘You’re gonna lose your hair.’ I freaked out.”

On being gay (Ford didn’t know he was gay when he was younger, but despises the label):

“Am I gay? First of all, I hate that word. Yes, of course I’m gay. I don’t like these labels. I look so forward to the day when we say, ‘Oh, you’re married. Are you married to a man or to a woman?’ Yes, I’m gay, and I’m absolutely and completely open about it. But I’m also an anal retentive, pain in the ass.”

On life partner of 25 years, Richard Buckley whom he met while working for designer Cathy Hardwick:

“He keeps me grounded. So grounded that I’m down in a hole.”

The greatest tip he ever got:

“Former Gucci creative director Dawn Mello told me ‘Only hire people you want to have dinner with.’”

What NOT to do when interviewing for a job with him:

“People come in and say, ‘My favorite designer is Nicolas Ghesquiere.’ Me, too, but you don’t say that when you’re interviewing with me!” (He said this laughing, by the way.)

On working for Marc Jacobs:

“I worked for Marc. Marc hired me. He had just gone to Perry Ellis, and he hired me to design Perry Ellis America, which was the jeans collection. And a few weeks after that, Perry Ellis ended up splitting. I only ended up working for Marc for a few weeks.”

On working with Yves at Yves Saint Laurent (Sidebar: at Gucci Group, Ford brought on Christopher Bailey, Francisco Costa, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Stefano Pilati, and Hedi Slimane. During his tenure at Gucci, Ford held positions as creative director of Gucci Group, creative director and designer of Gucci, and creative director and designer of Yves Saint Laurent):

“Yves Saint Laurent was bought for me to design. It went well at first and then Yves sent me a beautiful handwritten note that said ‘In 13 minutes you have destroyed what I have worked 40 years to build.’”

On his design aesthetic:

“I am a commercial fashion designer. I’ve always designed jackets with two sleeves. People have two arms! That doesn’t mean I don’t admire jackets with three sleeves or that can turn into tables or that layers and layers come off of them like little dolls in Russia. But I’m a practical commercial fashion designer. I love it. It’s creative. For me it’s a creative endeavor, it’s an artistic endeavor, but it is not art for me. Now for Alexander McQueen, it was art. He had to express himself, and that was his art.”

On “making it” in fashion:

“You never make it, especially in an industry where you have to constantly churn. In the last year I’ve had a comeback, I was finished, and I came back again.”

Advice on becoming a fashion designer:

“If there’s anything else in the world you’d be happy doing, do that instead. Creating and creating on command and on a schedule and on a calendar, a store needs new merchandise every six weeks so that people can shop, so that people can buy. To be creative like that on a calendar is — if you love it — great, you will have a wonderful life. It you doubt it, it is a tough, tough industry, but it can be a wonderful, wonderful industry.”

On the rumor of a possible H&M collaboration:

“Oh, yeah I saw that I was doing that!…I’ve never had a conversation with H&M. What excites me now is the very best in quality and workmanship. Unfortunately that costs money.”

On what he would do if he wasn’t a designer:

“In another life I’d love to be a cosmetic surgeon. You’re an architect…and need to match up all the seams.”

Favorite music:

Azealia Banks right now is amazing…and put the Bee Gees on and there’s no way you can be sad.”

On technology:

“I live on the internet, yes absolutely. I do not carry a cell phone, but I’m on my computer 8 hours a day. I feel like if something really happens, somebody’s going to get to me. And I can’t stand talking to people on cell phones. I say, ‘Are you on a cell phone? Let’s talk later when you’re on a hard line.’ I can’t do it.”

On producing and directing another movie: (Sidebar: In 2005 Ford started his own production company FADE TO BLACK and in 2009 he  made his film directorial debut with A Single Man, starring Colin Firth & Julianne Moore.)

“I have 3 projects waiting but, I have to face the fact I’m doing women’s RTW for the next couple of years before I can do another movie.”

On having a family:

“I’ve always wanted children. I think I better get going soon, though, if I want to be able to pick them up.”

What he thought of Marc Jacobs’ lace dress at the Met Gala:

After a long pause and grin: “I like original fashion. I like people who are themselves, and Marc is certainly original.”

His favorite fashion moment:

“[Fern Mallis quickly said Gwyneth Paltrow at the most recent Oscars was hers] that was one of my favorite fashion moments. I love that Gwyneth was brave enough to do it.”

Thanks Tom Ford for and inspirational evening that I will not forget for a long, long time.

- Lauren Dimet Waters

Image: Joyce Culver/92Y

 

 

 

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