“Wow, there’s a lot of you,” Tom Ford said to last night’s 92Y audience. His talk, part of Fern Mallis‘s “Fashion Icons” series, had been sold out for four months. An upstairs room held guests who watched the conversation on a livestream. Everyone wanted to see Tom.
Mallis tackled everything, from Ford’s childhood to his present-day status as a womenswear designer for his eponymous label. We learned lots (and lots) of things about the designer, which we’re now going to share with you.
1. Ford is a Virgo. When asked if he believed in astrology, he responded quickly: “Oh god, yes.”
“In fashion there’s a lot of Virgos — Stella McCartney, Karl Lagerfeld, Carine Roitfeld. There are lots of us. I think to really obsess over a millimeter on a shoe heel, it helps to be a Virgo.”
2. He grew up in Texas and New Mexico, and has always been into the all-American Ralph Lauren aesthetic.
“Oh, I grew up that way, and I still have the cowboy thing! It’s funny because my family’s been in Texas since the 1840s or something. I put on a cowboy hat, and you can see the genetics. It’s like, I don’t look stupid. Most people look stupid in cowboy hats! I put on a cowboy hat, and it’s like it just grew there on my head. It’s very bizarre. So I actully look surprisingly good in jeans and a plaid shirt on a horse in a cowboy hat.”
3. Ford gets a lot of good advice.
From his grandmother: “You have one decision to make in life: you can either be happy or you cannot be happy.”
From his former boss, Dawn Mello: “Only hire people you want to have dinner with.”
4. He wanted to be 50 years old, even as a kid, which got him bullied.
“The big thing was to put rocks at the end of a sock and swing it around and whap me. Or slit my car tires — see I was 50! — my bicycle tires. I didn’t want to carry a backpack, I thought it looked messy. I had a nice little overcoat, and I had a briefcase — and it was a real man’s briefcase! When you’re 7, a real man’s briefcase is like going to school with luggage.”
5. Ford didn’t know he was gay when he was younger, but he also just despises the label.
“No. Am I gay?! First of all, I hate that word, 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 anal retentive, pain in the ass.”
6. After dropping out of NYU, he became an actor. He eventually quit acting because “I become too weird, I couldn’t do it, I was too insecure”.
“I’ve never told anyone what they were. I had 12 national commercials running at the same time. I acted under a different name, so you will not find it, it will not be on YouTube, you will not be able to pull it up.”
7. He later matriculated at Parsons, though he got his degree in environmental design, not fashion design. One summer he interned at Chloé‘s press office in Paris, where he organized the sample closet. Getting a real job in fashion required some creativity, however. This is what went down when he applied for a job with Cathy Hardwick:
“I wanted a job in fashion, but I did not have a degree from Parsons in fashion design. But I could sketch, so I drew up a fashion portfolio. Of course you would assume if someone is showing you a fashion portfolio that they studied fashion. I didn’t. I got the job. She then said later I got the job because I had pretty hands, not because she liked my drawings. The first day on the job she said, “Draw some circle skirts.” And I’m like, “Shit.” So I went to Bloomingdales, flipped open the circle skirts, saw where all the seams were, ran back to the office, sketched some circle skirts, and put them on her desk. I learned a lot on the job.
8. His first boss also played matchmaker.
“Cathy introduced me to Richard Buckley, the love of my life. We went to this David Cameron fashion show, and I remember this silver salt-and-pepper-haired guy. I remember turning and looking, and he’s staring at me with these piercing, water-blue eyes. It scared me. It really scared me, and later I realized it scared me because when I looked into his eyes, I absolutely saw and knew my entire future, because he was the one. But I didn’t realize at that moment why it scared me. I just couldn’t look at him. I just couldn’t look at him in the eyes. At the end of the show, I just bolted. I just had to get out there. I couldn’t talk to him, I couldn’t look at him.”
They met again at the Women’s Wear Daily offices, and moved in together after three dates. They have been a couple for over 25 years.
9. Ford once worked 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.”
10. At Gucci Group, he was responsible for bringing on Christopher Bailey, Francisco Costa, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Stefano Pilati, and Hedi Slimane. By the end of his time there, he held positions as creative director of Gucci Group, creative director and designer of Gucci, and creative director and designer of Yves Saint Laurent. As per Ford, “Yves Saint Laurent was bought for me to design.”
“Yves was very friendly at first. We knew each other, and he very much wanted me to design the collection. As things started to go well, and as the shows started to get better reviews and better reviews and our sales started going up and up and up, Yves was no longer my friend. And I actually have some wonderful handwritten letters in very beautiful handwriting in ink: ‘In 13 minutes you have destroyed what I worked 40 years to create.'”
11. Ford has a pragmatic approach to design.
“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.”
12. But he will not be doing a diffusion collection with H&M (or anyone else).
“I keep reading that, and I find that amusing. I’ve never had a conversation with H&M. I’m really happy doing what I do. What excites me now is the very best: the best stitching, the best fabric, the best quality. And that’s what excites me. Unfortunately, or fortunately, that does tend to cost money. I want to design for people who get excited about the same things that I do.”
13. He kept his first womenswear show under wraps just in case things fell through.
“I honestly was not sure we could pull this off. So I wanted to keep it secret in case, at the last minute, it didn’t work. It wasn’t just clothes. It was shoes, it was bags, it was everything, it was jewelry. It was everything. I thought if I’m going back in fashion, I have to have something new to say. Otherwise, why go back?”
14. Ford embargoes images of his collections so people don’t get sick of his clothes.
“I think sometimes when I look at fashion six or seven months before you can buy it, I’m a little bored with it by the time I see it. Our customer doesn’t necessarily want to wear the same jacket that she’s seen in all the magazines and, ‘Who rocked it best?’, 49 percent vote this. She’s getting dressed and she’s thinking, ‘Am I going to rock this as great as Jessica Biel did? I don’t know. Everyone’s seen it, they didn’t like it on Fashion Police, I shouldn’t buy it.’ I have to say I’m not sure this will work ultimately.
15. He takes four to five baths a day, but only uses soap during his first one in the morning.
“People seem to tease me about my baths. If I’m sending emails, and I’m getting all wound up and stressed and I don’t know what to do with myself for 20 minutes, I fill up the tab with hot water and I lie there and think. I get out, I dry myself off. It’s meditative for me, it’s relaxing.”
16. Ford hates cell phones. A lot.
“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.”
17. He thinks fashion is hard.
“If there’s anything else in the world you could be happy doing, do that. This is the hardest industry. 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.”
Photo courtesy of Joyce Culver/92Y