Tom Ford's world-famous designs at Gucci and Yves St. Laurent have brought sexy, sophisticated clothes into the American mainstream. This year, Ford stepped away from his position as creative director at Gucci to conquer the film world. A retrospective of his work arrives in bookstores this month. "Tom Ford" is full of hundreds of photos from his long career and honest words from his friends and peers in the fashion world.
Read the following excerpts from "Tom Ford."
Foreword by "Vogue's" Anna Wintour:
One of Tom Ford's many talents as a designer was the mystery with which he divined, season-on-season, the extraordinary transformations of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. I would go to his shows expecting to be surprised and delighted -- not a straightforward matter when one attends as many shows as I have -- and on every occasion my reaction would be just that. And yet I have no clear idea how he did it. What was the secret of his neverending powers of invention, his infallible sense of provocation that distinguishes modern fashion at its best?
Then, in 2003, he agreed to act as my co-chairman for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Gala. Over the course of many months, I began to understand something of his methods and magic. I don't believe that I have ever worked with anyone with a greater passion for detail or a clearer vision of his aesthetic goals. Not thatit was so surprising: After all, I'd seen his advertising campaigns, I'd visited his stores. Rare is the designer who can orchestrate the experience of their world so that everything comes down to one single thing: a wonderful, sensual sensory experience, one that is always charged with some kind of erotic frisson.
Which is why Tom insisted, in his breezily direct way, that the food visually match the table settings (the vegetables had to be just the right shade of green); that the salt and pepper shakers be custom-designed (by Gucci); that Polaroids be sent to him of every usher and attendant we proposed to hire for the night (those who got the job were then given full Ford-approved hair and makeup). As somebody disposed to my own brand of perfectionism, it was an unfamiliar experience to be outdone by a man whose persistence and exactitude puts my own to shame. Tom Ford, I realized, was the Flaubert of fashion.
And just as Flaubert knew Madame Bovary, so Tom Ford knew the woman for whom he was designing: sexy, confident, and often flirtatiously androgynous. This was a creature of his own invention and one, it became clear, that many of us longed to be. When I think back to the early nineties, when he first arrived on my radar screen, fashion was buried deep in the shapeless layers of the horrible grunge look. But along came Tom with his low-cut velvet hipsters and his slinky jersey dresses, and grunge was sent scurrying off back to Seattle. Women woke up to the fact that a little glamour was missing from their lives - and Tom's clothes, always sexually empowering, captured their imagination.
Tom's other invention, of course, was his own persona as a glamorous figurehead for the Gucci Group. He understood instinctively that to give public prominence to the visionary behind a brand is to animate the connection between the brand and the woman who buys the clothes. He was the celebrity designer par excellence. Everytime he appeared in a fabulous setting -- on a red carpet, or a ski slope in Gstaad, or a plain in the American West - his designs increased in excitement and fun and possibility.
It goes without saying that his absence from the design world leaves a gap that will not easily be filled. Tom's final collections for Gucci and YSL Rive Gauche showed us what we're going to miss. As the models came down the catwalks in their luxurious, nuanced, and intriguingly erotic finery, my pleasure was mixed with a sense of disbelief that these were the last offerings that would be ours to enjoy, and that after this there would be no more. I remain convinced that whatever new directions he chooses to follow, he is not lost to fashion forever. One day, I am sure, I will take my seat and once more prepare to be surprised and delighted.
Introduction by "Vanity Fair's" Graydon Carter:
Tom Ford is the only man in the world who has ever grabbed my a--. It was at a party in L.A. and it was late, and we'd all had way too much to drink, and he just came up behind me and, well, grabbed it. I'm a devout heterosexual, but I have to admit I was sort of flattered.
He cuts quite a swath, Tom does. And the thing about him that most people don't know is that he's funny -- really funny. He's got a nimble mind. He's loyal to a fault. And he's great company. People are drawn to Tom because he takes his work seriously, but rarely himself. He smokes. He drinks. He sips from life's full cup.
I'm too old and fat to wear the clothes Tom makes. But a few years ago I realized that I'd been dressing the same way for ages, and that I needed to freshen up my look a bit. I saw Alexander von Furstenberg wearing a pair of those long, square-toed, black loafers Gucci made a few years back. They looked great on him, so I went out and bought a pair. I put them on at home and found it almost impossible to walk; it was like moving around with snorkeling fins on. Also, they were completely age-inappropriate for me, and I looked a right fool. They're still in my closet. Size 11. Worn just that once. If you're in the market, call me.
So I'm certainly not the one to wax on about Tom's "important shoe," but I can testify to this: Tom's a very sexy man, as he no doubt would be the first to tell you. Virtually all women who meet him want to have sex with him. Men admire him not only for his dash and drive but, for his cool business head. And, of course, a lot of them want to have sex with him, too. It's not just the God-given chiseled bone structure. Or that, as his chum Lisa Eisner puts it: "He smells good." It's that Tom can't help but look perfect pretty much all the time. Even when he's "dressed down" in a pair of filthy, frayed jeans, the jeans are expertly filthed and perfectly frayed. And let's face it, Tom is one of the few men in this day and age who can get away with a shirt unbuttoned to the navel and not look like a backup singer for Tom Jones or Englebert Humperdinck.
Tom can't help being sexy. Add to this his incredible eye and one begins to understand why Gucci exploded in the past ten years, becoming the success story of modern fashion. Think about the culture of sleek, sexy excess of the nineties and Gucci clothes come to mind. Necklines that could hardly get lower, heels that couldn't get any higher, enormous logos. No designer of our time has done over-the-top glamour so boldly and brazenly. Which brings us to the inevitable association with celebrities. It's hard to think of a beautiful actress who hasn't shimmered across an awards stage in his clothes. Throughout the nineties and into the next decade, on any given red carpet, there was a parade of stars doing the full "Gucc," as they say: Madonna in the unbuttoned satin blouse, Gwenyth Paltrow in the red velvet tuxedo.
By now, a young designer swooping in to re-energize a mumsy old fashion label has become an almost predictable business model. It wouldn't have happened without Ford. In the 1960s and 1970s, Gucci had been the pinnacle of chic, thanks to icons such as Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Jacqueline Onassis. But by the 1980s, Gucci had lost its appeal, becoming a tacky airport brand, and was in deep financial straits. In October 1990 this cool, somewhat snobbish 29-year-old from Texas and New Mexico, who'd been wearing Gucci loafers since he was 13, arrived. For four years, Tom slogged away in the boiler room, creating major items that gradually raised Gucci from the dead, but never getting the credit. Cut to the fall of 1995 and a certain high-voltage collection (one all about plunging necklines and hip-hugging pants) that announced grunge was done, and fabulous was in. Fashion people, being the excitable creatures they are, went ape. Suddenly, Ford had Gucci CEO Domenico De Sole asking him to name his price. He did. And they became partners.
The growth curve at Gucci was unlike anything anyone had ever seen. By the late nineties the lines at the stores went out the door. The fashion "waiting list" was born. In early 1999, Gucci found itself at the center of a dramatic and unprecedented $8.7 billion showdown between two worthy opponents: luxury-goods titan Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH, and Francois Pinault, one of France's richest men. After months of frantic late-night phone calls, emergency meetings, hissy-fits and courtroom antics, Ford and De Sole went with Pinault's company Pinault-Printemps-Redoute.
The event changed the fashion business forever. Arnault increased his pace, snatching up one hot young designer after another to turn around LVMH's various labels. He brought in Marc Jacobs to revamp Louis Vuitton, John Galliano to revive Givenchy and then Dior, Narciso Rodriguez for Loewe, and Michael Kors for Celine. Ford and De Sole, meanwhile, stacked their company with a number of fashion brands, including Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche. By 2000, a major part of the fashion business, with a few notable exceptions (Ralph Lauren, Armani, and Versace), were divided between two global, luxury behemoths. The money had never been bigger, the stakes never so high. Last October, the man who started it all stunned the fashion world when he announced that he and De Sole were leaving Gucci, after a contractual agreement with PPR could not be reached. The details have been the source of much speculation. I had dinner with him in London the night before the announcement. Most people in his position would have focused the whole table on themselves for the evening. Tom simply told us what had happened and then went on with the dinner.
He mentioned the movies that night as a possible second act. And, indeed, he has a pretty decent starter kit to get into the business a spare, glamorous Richard Neutra house high in the hills of Bel-Air; and a Rolodex bulging with names of film industry mandarins. I suggested at dinner that he make a few small films and do them quietly. He looked at me as if I had my shoes on the wrong feet. Tom thinks big. He thought big in fashion. Gucci wasn't about clothes, remember, it was about a life. And if he makes a film, I suspect it will be a big, innovative Hollywood picture. As the following pages amply demonstrate, he has an exquisite sensibility not just for clothes, but also for art, design, and architecture. Many in Hollywood already understand this. His list of friends and admirers there is legion. And Hollywood being the town it is, the sexy factor shouldn't hurt either.
Excerpted from "Tom Ford," Rizzoli International Publications, copyright 2004