When the fashion designer Tom Ford first said that he was turning his hand to films, the world raised a collective eyebrow.
His debut, A Single Man starring Colin Firth, was a triumph: critically acclaimed and commercially successful. Most people would have been tempted to cement their reputation with a quick follow-up. Ford waited – and waited…
“I certainly didn’t intend it to be seven years,” he says, suave and charming in his trademark black suit and white shirt. “But I’ve opened 100 stores, I’ve started a women’s business and, most importantly, I’ve had a child, who is now four.”
His new film, Nocturnal Animals (in cinemas from Friday 4 November) is beautiful to look at, but not always easy to watch. Ford likes films that make you think and he feels short-changed if they’re merely entertaining.
Starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, it’s a dark tale of love, betrayal and revenge. “It’s about finding people in your life that mean something to you, and not letting go,” says Ford.
“I’m a very loyal person. I’ve lived with the same person for 30 years. When I find great people, I keep them around. This is a cautionary tale about what can happen to your life when you let those people go.”
Based on a 1993 novel by Austin Wright, the film was written, produced and directed by Ford. There’s a glamour and elegance to it, even though the subject is grim: Ford is, after all, in the business of making beautiful things. But he worries about society’s obsession with material goods.
“I certainly helped create this consumer world. I’m a big part of it. Contemporary culture tells you that it is possible to achieve happiness, and it’s not. You can have happy moments, happy days, but you’re also going to have things that are devastating in your life, whether you’re rich or poor.
“Everyone today is on antidepressants. It sounds weird coming from me, a fashion designer, but we all have expectations of life that can’t actually be achieved.”
Tom Ford with Benedict Cumberbatch in 2014
Ford was born in 1961 in Austin, Texas, to parents who both worked as estate agents. When he was 11, they moved with his sister, Jennifer, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Ford today owns a ranch that he retreats to every August. “Do not bother me,” he says sternly. “I am in Santa Fe, and I hang.”
He is partly joking. Hanging is not something at which he excels. “My friends say, ‘When can we hang out?’ Who has time? We can make an appointment for dinner, or for lunch, or a two-hour slot for coffee, but hang? I don’t hang. And I can’t stand chatting on the phone.”
After graduating from school, he moved to New York to study art history at NYU. He dropped out, but later graduated from Parson’s with a degree in architecture. He likes building things, he says… not houses, but businesses, brands. And he never doubted that he’d make it.
“I had a built-in confidence and drive. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but whatever it was I was going to give it my all. I was determined to be successful.”
Ford met his husband, fashion writer Richard Buckley, in 1986, when he was working as a design assistant and Buckley worked for Women’s Wear Daily. His big break came in 1990 when he joined Gucci. There, he unleashed an outrageously sexy look that helped turn a down-at-heel label into a $10 billion behemoth.
Then, in 2004, he fell out with the CEO of Gucci’s parent company, Francois-Henri Pinault, and left. “I was devastated,” he recalls. “You get to give the world your taste once. I gave the world my taste at Gucci.”
He became depressed and drank too much. Seven years ago, he gave up. “I don’t drink any more, I don’t smoke, I don’t take any drugs. I’m a much better, more balanced person. I’m an addictive personality. If I could have one or two drinks, fine, but I can’t. I don’t miss it at all.”
His psychologist tells him that he uses work as a substitute. Baths are his relaxant – he has three a day.
“They’re an hour and a half a day of pure meditation. It’s when I put myself together. I’ve tried real meditation, but it doesn’t work.”
Two years after leaving Gucci, in 2006, he launched himself as a brand. Now head of a sprawling empire that turns over $1 billion a year and includes men’s and women’s wear, perfume, accessories, beauty and eyewear, he keeps a handle on it by being hyper-organised.
This might have made becoming a father a little tricky. He and Buckley had their son, Jack, in 2012 via a surrogate. Buckley is the stay-at-home parent, but Ford gets him up every morning, makes his breakfast, takes him to school and is back in time to read a bedtime story. Jack is, he says, the love of his life.
“The things that make me happy are the people in my life. Your parents tell you the best things in life are free and you go, ‘Yeah, yeah, the best things are a new apartment and a shiny new car.’ Not true. Maybe I’m a fool that I didn’t understand that right off the bat.”
After several years living in London, the family moved back to Los Angeles last year because Ford needed sun. There, he watched the presidential debates live, and despairs.
“It’s a disaster. One of the reasons I loved living in the UK is because the general population is more plugged in, more educated. You turn on the news here and you get the news. In America, you get Live at Five! How to slim down in three days!”
He rules out going into politics, although he helped to fundraise for Obama. The president hasn’t repaid the favour by wearing his suits.
“He would be so criticised for wearing a $5,000 suit. My clothes cost too much for Hillary Clinton. You could not have a Jackie O spending that much money in the White House. I wish it could be like that, because our president should reflect the best of what we can be.”
He’d love to dress the Duchess of Cambridge. “Not in closed-toe pumps. Maybe it’s time to see a royal in an open-toe high-heeled sandal. And let’s lose the nude hose.
“Historically, fashions have been created by monarchs – they were the leaders of style. I’m afraid we’ve lost that now, but Kate’s a beautiful girl and she does a great job.”
Ford has too many jobs to be defined by any one of them. He still loves fashion, he insists, but he’s also serious about filmmaking. He bridles slightly at the suggestion that he’s a self-taught filmmaker.
“I’m 55, so I have a certain life experience,” he protests. “Being a fashion designer is not that dissimilar. You have to have a vision, a point of view.” Which is something that Tom Ford most definitely doesn’t lack.