A Man of Reflection
“I like to build things. I like to make things! So, whether it’s building a company, building a store, building a brand or building a movie, that’s what makes me happy. That’s what I love to do.” ~Tom Ford
I am absolutely fascinated by Tom Ford, the man and the designer. The OWN channel aired a documentary on him earlier this year. I have watched this video several times and each time, I discover another fascinating detail of a man I previously only knew as the creative genius behind Gucci and YSL. Ford is often criticized for being narcissistic and extravagant. Both appear to be true but he also owns up to these aspects of personality. Ford will tell you that the person you see during fashion shows, press events and industry dinners is a version of himself. It’s all an act. He’s much quieter and a bit of a loner but his passion requires performance. He left his position with Gucci and YSL in 2004 only agreeing to return to the design world on his own terms.
Growing-up in the West, Ford split his childhood between Texas and New Mexico. His mother was an elegant woman (marrying 6 times) who believed that dressing well showed respect for those around you. So Ford’s, hyper sense of self-awareness began at an early stage. Always conscious of how he looked, what he wore and the esthetics of everything around him. His belief in the importance of appearance and how it affects a person’s reality and self-perception is deep-rooted. At one point in the interview, he says “when I am feeling low, I follow a precise ritual. I start my day by putting on a suit. It might be false but I feel that if I shine my shoes, make myself look as good as I can possibly look, put on a tie, I feel better. It’s like armor.”
You will also notice during scenes where Ford is interacting with others that he is nice, charming and often flirtatious. I wonder if by reaching out with warmth and playfulness, Ford is attempting to set the tone for each interaction. He admits to being a control freak and by setting the tone for a meeting (at one point actually physically moving a reporter to one side so that he will be video taped from his right-side) he is controlling his environment by not only influencing how he is perceived but how another person is likely to make him feel.
Self-Awareness is Key to Ford’s Success
Just as the clothes he designs for others, his signature black suit and white shirt portrays a contradictory character: open and guarded, controlled and impulsive, flirtatious and devoted. Ford has been with his partner, Richard Buckley, for 25 years.
The video opens with Ford saying, “there is a very squiggly line between Tom Ford the man and Tom Ford the brand.” His brand is a projection of who he is and how he wants to see the world. He accepts that his time will come to an end and his message will no longer be relevant. He describes his mission as bringing back the ability to express individuality, sensuality and sex through style. He was careful not to directly say that he was responsible for bringing sexy back but that’s the gist.
Expressing Character Through Style
As our culture changes, so does our comfort in expressing our character and culture through style. As the world becomes scarier, anxiety increases, and the concept of “other” reaches new heights. Conformity is seen as the norm. Ford rails against this. He believes “everyone lives in their own world. There isn’t one world. You are your own world and I am my own world. So, beauty really is truly in the eye of the beholder.”
According to Ford, “style is when someone figures out who they are, what works on them, what they feel good in and develops that. Style is an enhanced outward expression of who we are, an expression of our character.”
Accepting of the Future
In Ford’s first movie, A Single Man, the film opens with the main character, George saying “For the past 6 months, waking up has actually hurt. The cold realization that I am still here sets in. I was never particularly fond of waking up. It takes time in the morning for me to become George. I am to adjust to what is expected of George and how he is to behave.” The movie is based on a book that Ford deeply connected with as the main character is left to live his life after his long-term partner has died. Ford’s long-term partner, Richard Buckley, who was diagnosed with cancer in 1989, has appeared very frail for several years now. It is likely that Ford will survive Buckley when he finally succumbs to his long-term illness.
Ford’s fashion is a celebration of life through physical touch (fabric) and emotional expression (passion, control and sensuality shown in the structure, lines and length of his designs). The most profound thing I took away from the documentary was Ford’s declaration that “a few times in my life, I’ve had moments of clarity where the silence drowns out the noise and I can feel rather than think.”