Tom Ford. For anyone with even a passing interest in fashion, the name needs little introduction. The 50-year-old Texan-born, New York-educated fashion designer-architect-businessman-writer-producer and model has worked as creative director of Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci, before launching his own eponymous clothing, fragrance, cosmetics and accessories brand in 2005 – and surprising everyone with multi-award-winning film A Single Man in 2009, as well as his first women’s line last year.
Today he has 21 stand-alone stores, including one in Dubai, and is stocked in more than 65 shops internationally. No wonder he’s renowned as fashion royalty, and such a favourite in our over-achieving city. But what’s a man this successful really like? Can he possibly still have both feet on the ground? What is it about his style that people love so much? We had an incredibly frank talk with him to find out.
Something about you, Mr Ford, unnerves people. Maybe it’s your charm. Or your humour. I’m a little nervous...
[Talking slowly] You don’t have to be nervous, I’m just Tom. There’s Mr Ford the product and Tom the person. They overlap but I’m always surprised when people are nervous. You’re afraid of my charm? No, come on. [Sits up and leans in] Where are you from? Did you grow up here?
Throughout our interview, Ford steers the conversation to his preferred direction time and time again. ‘Do you mind if I refer to my question sheet?’ I ask. Ford turns his line of vision to my business card. ‘Time Out,’ he purrs, ‘You’re supposed to hand it to me properly.’ And before I can utter another word he’s running away with his own conversation… ‘I think of myself now as an international global brand.’
So you have a world view.
I believe what ultimately will happen, 100 years from now, is that we’ll all be completely racially blended. You know, culturally, everyone’s into marrying the world and the world is shrinking in terms of communication. Racial boundaries are completely a blur. Chinese will be marrying Americans, will be marrying African-Americans. It may take 250 years but we will be one race. The world. It will all blur together. So I think we’re at the last moments of separate ethnic races.
Would you like to have children?
I always said I wanted to have children. And as I got a little bit older, [my partner] did not want children. And so I decided not to have children. But if I have children, no one will know about it until the child is born. Maybe you’ll see it when it’s 18, but I will keep it out of the spotlight. I wouldn’t use it as a press tool, as some people I know have recently.
Can we talk about your rumoured new comedy film?
No, because I won’t tell you about it. I believe you should do something and then talk about it, which is why I didn’t talk about my women’s collection until it just appeared in New York. And I didn’t talk about my movie until it was finished.
But the script must be…
I don’t want to talk about it because I believe you’re also giving away energy when you talk about things.
Are you good with words?
I think so. Have you read my last screenplay? I wrote A Single Man. You have to tell me. I think I am.
Do you feel very close to comedy?
I’m surprisingly more humorous than people realise. You have to have comedy in life because there’s so much tragedy; you feel you have to laugh at it.
Let’s talk about your fashion label. Enzo Ferrari would never sell his cars to somebody with bad taste. What does Tom Ford feel about this?
I used to make jeans that cost Dhs180, and at this stage in my life, after 25 years in the fashion business, what interests me the most is the best. The best fabric, the best stitching, the best quality, and that is, by nature, expensive. It doesn’t mean I’m trying to exclude or make a social judgement about not wanting people who can’t afford my clothes to be stylish. By the way, style has nothing to do with money. So I wouldn’t say, ‘no, I wouldn’t sell it to somebody I don’t like’ but because of the things that I’m designing they are targeted towards the kind of person that I would normally want to [dress].
So you’ve auto-selected your clients during the design process already...
I think one does do that when they design. You do design for a kind of ideal. The ideal comes from me, from menswear. I’m my muse. So you’re not going to go in there and find elasticated waistbands and flip-flops.
How do you feel about John Galliano being sacked for racial comments and Alexander McQueen’s untimely death?
I certainly relate. I brought Alexander McQueen to Gucci Group and I loved him and he’s a true artist. I do understand that pressure, because I used to have it. You work for a large company like that and it’s Dhs11 billion a year in business. And if you do a bad collection, the company’s sale drops dramatically. Everyone who works for that company feels proud of the products that are created. If you have a bad collection and it’s reviewed badly and it’s not selling, the pride and the whole company drops, and you feel responsible. With the work at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent I couldn’t have gone on much longer because I was designing 16 collections a year, I was the vice chairman of the company, working in the acquisitions committee, bringing in Stella McCartney and buying all these different brands and designing collections. There was enormous pressure and you have to be very strong. And you become isolated. Even though I really helped build Gucci to where it was I was like a racehorse. You need to perform, perform, perform.
How do you feel about Galliano?
I don’t want to comment. I know John, I like John a lot.
Do people say ‘yes’ to you all the time?
Of course they do.
And is that part of the pressure?
Yes. You lose perspective. I hadn’t flown on a commercial plane for 10 years when I left Gucci. I now fly on some commercial planes. It’s a good awakening for me.
Mr Ford in Dubai
Tom feels a certain affinity with our stylish home, as his store and launches here prove
• June 2008: Rumours say he was creating a line of dishadashas for the now closed Villa Moda boutique. It never happened, and sources tell us it never will. He does, however, keep his Dubai clients in mind by including lighter fabrics in his collections.
• September 2008: He launches Arabian Wood, part of his Private Blend collection. The Eastern and Western scent blend celebrates his new presence in the Middle East.
• November, 2009: Tom Ford arrives from Los Angeles for 24 hours to attend the opening of his flagship store in The Dubai Mall. The store was focused on menswear and had the look of a millionaire’s bachelor pad (it has now been renovated to contain a few feminine touches). He says the Dubai store is one of the most beautiful.
• April 2011: Tom Ford’s first ever womenswear line appears in The Dubai Mall boutique – one of only 13 points of sale in the world. The coveted collection was revealed on the catwalk, worn by women whose style he admires, including his number one muse Julianne Moore, actress Lauren Hutton, Tom Hanks’ wife Rita Wilson and ‘triple-threat’ Beyoncé. Quite a cast.
• March 2012: Is the planned opening date for the second UAE boutique in Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi.