“I DECIDED I WOULD NEVER GO BACK to FASHION until I HAD SOMETHING NEW to SAY, until I COULD HAVE FUN CREATING FASHION AGAIN. It HAD BECOME REALLY FORMULAIC.” —Tom Ford
Tom Ford’s Spring 2011 womenswear collection, presented at Ford’s Manhattan store to a select few journalists, editors, and fashion-world heavies, was the biggest show of the season that you never saw, partly because Ford decided to mark his return to dressing the female form as a way of protesting the current state of the industry: fashion as impersonal, aggressive, and aloof; fashion as playing to the critics instead of the customers; fashion as instantly accessible via the Internet to a global audience that obsesses over trends without ever experiencing the quality, the complexity, and the refinement of the clothes themselves. The presentation was Ford’s manifesto-like argument for bringing back to high-end fashion the excitement, intimacy, immediacy, and sense of fun—all qualities that have been arguably sacrificed over the last decade for the mass-takeover approach favored by many of today’s designers.
TOM FORD: We have to be careful. Everything we are saying is going to be recorded.
JOHN CURRIN: [laughs] The small acorn that will grow into a great oak of a scandal later, right?
FORD: [sighs] Ah, yes, I know what that’s like. You say the littlest thing, it gets misinterpreted.
CURRIN: Well, I’m here to ask you some questions, and I think a good one to start off with is about your childhood. What were some of your first memories of seeing beauty?
FORD: That would have been as a little kid living in Texas. My grandmother was probably the first person who I thought was beautiful. She was incredibly stylish, she had big hair, big cars. I was probably 3 years old, but she was like a cartoon character. She’d swoop into our lives with presents and boxes, and she always smelled great and looked great. She always had the latest things. She was larger than life to me, even as an adult, but when I was a child it was really like she was from another planet. It seemed like she lived in a different world, and wherever that was, I wanted to go.
CURRIN: So it wasn’t natural beauty, then. It wasn’t sunsets or mountains or trees.
FORD: No. In fact, I didn’t learn to appreciate those things until much later in life, because I grew up mostly in New Mexico, which is famous for sunsets and mountains and trees. That’s the reason I have a place there and spend so much time there now. When I was a little kid, all I wanted to do was to escape what I thought was the country and get to a city. Probably film and television had influenced me so much, I really thought the key to happiness was living a very artificial life in a penthouse in New York with martini glasses.
CURRIN: Your movie had some of that feeling; for instance, with its collection of small moments of cultivation—the way things are folded or put in a drawer.
FORD: Well, I do that myself, and that character was very, very, very autobiographical and very different from the character in the Isherwood book. That’s really about putting on a sort of armor to go out in the world. The character played by Julianne [Moore] was quite literally based on my grandmother. It’s funny, that movie was cathartic for me. It was really my midlife crisis on the screen. [Currin laughs] It was! I was working through all of those earlier notions of what was important in life. And George has a moment where time stands still, and he really feels his connection to the universe and understands the meaning of life, in a way, and that he doesn’t need to live any longer, and he dies. I never used to say that he dies, but I think enough people have seen the film by now, so I can give away the ending. But as an adult working in the fashion industry, I struggle with materialism. And I’m one of the least materialistic people that exist, because material possessions don’t mean much to me. They’re beautiful, I enjoy them, they can enhance your life to a certain degree, but they’re ultimately not important. Your connections with other people are important, our connection to the earth. And that’s why I go to New Mexico as often as I can. And what I find to be the most beautiful thing in the world now is nature—sunsets, trees, my horses.
CURRIN: I didn’t mean it pejoratively that your aesthetic is always about cultivation.
FORD: My fashion aesthetic. I guess I’ve yet to express another aesthetic.