Tom Ford defies the bounds of what it is to be a creative genius. Ford’s aesthetic is synonymous with glamour, sophistication, beauty and above all, sexual seduction. No stranger to controversy, his exit from fashion plainly shocked the industry he helped shape. Ford went on to prove his unique vision and sphere of influence extends beyond the world of style – to visual design, art direction, film production and storytelling at its Oscar-worthy best.
If there were a picture under the word “polymath” in the modern dictionary, surely it would be a photo of Tom Ford.
A small-town architecture student who cut his teeth in fashion, Tom Ford raised luxury brands such as Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent out of the dust, created his own eponymous label, and then totally reinvented himself as an edgy Hollywood film director.
Tom Ford came from humble beginnings in suburban Texas and New Mexico, surrounded by open plains and mesas. This was not the landscape for his imaginings. Even at the tender age of 6 he was rearranging furniture and giving his mother tips on her hair and shoes.
As he grew up, Ford had a wider, more opulent lifestyle in mind, one of penthouses and martinis in the epicentre of the Arts world. As soon as he was able, Ford escaped the burbs and moved to the heart of New York City, where he began studying art history at NYU.
It was there he met his first love, Ian Falconer, who introduced him to the gay scene and the disco glamour of Studio 54, which would heavily influence Ford’s later designs.
Dropping school, Ford concentrated on acting for television commercials and building a strong portfolio, but soon realised he was not suited to it.
“I realised I wasn’t in control, and I didn’t like that”.
Instead, Ford followed his visual calling, enrolling in Interior Design at Parsons, the New School for Design. As part of his studies he moved to Paris for a year and half and interned in Chloe’s press office.
It was here that the world of fashion really took hold of Tom Ford. Once back in New York, he graduated in 1986 with a degree in architecture, but his heart was in fashion design.
The Heart of Fashion
Possessed with ambition, Ford became determined to land a job with the iconic American sportswear designer, Cathy Hardwick. Not mentioning his architecture major or lack of fashion experience, Ford called Hardwick’s office every day for a month, finally landing an interview.
As she recalls it, “I had every intention of giving him no hope. I asked him who his favourite European designers were. He said, “Armani and Chanel.” Months later I asked him why he said that, and he said, ‘Because you were wearing something Armani.’ Is it any wonder he got the job?”
Ford became a design assistant and worked under Hardwick for two years. All the while, mixing socially with the fashion crowd and building his networks. By 1988 he had formed a friendship with Robert McDonald and Marc Jacobs, landing himself a job at Perry Ellis where he designed women’s jeans. But his vision went far beyond American Fashion.
“If I was ever going to become a good designer, I had to leave America. My own culture was inhibiting me…”
Says Ford. “It’s looked down upon to be too stylish. Europeans, however, appreciate style”.
Within two years he had cemented himself into the heart of European fashion. Once there, assuming the role of ready-to-wear Womenswear Designer for the iconic Italian fashion house Gucci. At the time, Gucci was struggling to stay relevant. Gucci’s then-creative director Dawn Mello admitted “no one would dream of wearing Gucci”.
Known for leather goods, scarves and slightly anachronistic knits, the fashion was frankly outdated. By 1990, Gucci was experiencing devastating financial loss. In stepped Tom Ford to replace Mello as Creative Director.
A Complete Overhaul
Moving with his partner to Milan, Ford was given carte blanche to overhaul the brand. Within six months he was designing menswear and shoes. With Richard Lamberton’s exit as design director, Gucci’s whole creative vision changed.
Ford was nothing if not an agent provocateur. In his first year, Ford introduced sexy Halston-style velvet hipsters, skinny satin shirts and car-finish metallic patent boots. Soon he had added knife-like stilettos, satin slip dresses and branded lingerie.
By 1993 Ford worked 18-hour days, designing 11 product lines. These included Gucci’s imagery, advertising, ready to wear collections, fragrances, and store design. Hyper-sexy outfits, sleek suits and hip-hugging trousers for both sexes were added to the Gucci lines.
Ford’s vision paid off, raising a brand that was bankrupt and irrelevant to the hottest luxury fashion house in the world. Sales values skyrocketed. From 1995 and 1996 alone, Gucci sales increased by 90% and by 1999 the brand was worth approximately $4 billion.
Ford had become the benchmark of the 90’s rebellious and incredibly sensual aesthetic.
Watch FIB’s “THE GUCCI COWBOY” TOM FORD below:
Written by Niyati Libotte – Edited by Chantelle Japardi – Narrated by Paul G Roberts.
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