Tom Ford has now infamously left his own brand, as of April 28th, 2023, in the hands of designer Peter Hawkings, after having a 17 year run of strong and consistant collections. Perhaps one of the few "old-school" designers left, Tom Ford has a sense of style that is rather unique, and timeless. The Tom Ford man is a sexy one, not afraid of his masculinity, but also not afraid to wear a jewel-tone raw-silk suit. Undoubtedly inspired by Roy Halston, even to the point of buying Halston's home in the upper east side (New York), Tom Ford's designs also resonate with a liberated New Yorker affluent audience who is seeking a bit of rock and roll meets cowboy meets Venetian palazzo chic. As an American myself, it took me quite a while to actually appreciate his collections. As is often the case with many Americans in fashion, there is a strong resistance to American design early on, but later in life, a slowly encroaching admiration for the ability to create clothing that isn't so much about pushing a story, but rather adapted to a lifestyle. That very word, lifestyle, is something I despise, but at the same time, understand that we live in a world made of lifestyles, and no matter how hard one may try to remain out of the box, there is really no escape. After all, we live within the confines of our physical and social world, and our clothing must be adapted to it - rare is the person who can actually break out of the standard set of lifestyles (or fashion tribes : bourgeois, yuppies, hipsters, athletes, sartorially obsessed, hip-hop, techies, ravers, etc...) and create something entirely on its own. The Tom Ford lifestyle is one of glamourous sexuality and puritanical subtlety at the same time. Even in his film, A Single Man (2009), the interior design and fashion styling are exactly that - the dream of America that only exists in our ideas of what the 1960's were : Danish design, wooden furniture upholstered with tweeds or metallic jacquards, women wearing baby blue eye shadow, clean cut glowingly healthy boys with perfect hair and alpaca knits, ocre brick architecture in the middle of the vast beige desert, and gold details seemingly everywhere.
Tom Ford has not been immune to controversies during his career, like many pre-covid era designers. His openness and frankness about beauty and sexuality, coupled with his tongue-in-cheek approach to those who challenge his vision, have brought him into conflict with certain segments of society. Tom Ford's use of sexually charged imagery, which was adored by many, has also drawn criticism for objectifying women. In response, he has famously stated that he is an "equal opportunity objectifier," adding that he is equally happy to objectify men. He also noted the disparity in our culture's acceptance of female versus male nudity and cited an Yves Saint Laurent ad he did featuring male nudity, which was ultimately pulled from circulation.
Additionally, Ford has been embroiled in other scandals over the years, including the controversial phallus / penis pendant necklace he designed. Furthermore, he has been criticized for not using plus-sized or non-traditional models in his work. One recent controversy that is not as widely known is the company's initial refusal to exit the Russian market after the Ukrainian invasion. Yale University had even placed Tom Ford in the "digging in" category, meaning it is defying demands to exit or reduce activities. However, the company has since stated on its website that it no longer operates in Russia, and Yale has removed the company from its list of "digging in" companies.
Tom Ford's renowned fashion collections of American style were predominantly created for European brands. Although he graduated from The New School in Manhattan with a degree in architecture, he kept this detail concealed and embarked on his fashion journey by starting out at a public relations job for Chloé. After working at Chloé, he moved on to become a design assistant for American designer Cathy Hardwick, and then later at Perry Ellis, which was being designed by Marc Jacobs at the time. Growing tired of the American fashion industry, Tom made the decision to leave his home country. In 1990, he was hired by Gucci to become their chief designer for women's ready-to-wear, and he was quickly whisked away to Milan. Despite style differences with Maurizzio Gucci, Tom's vision brought Gucci to a level of success it had never known before. Two years later, Tom was appointed the design director for Gucci, overseeing the brand's ready-to-wear, fragrances, image, advertising, and store design. The image of Gucci was driven by the stylings of Carine Roitfeld and the photography of Mario Testino, whose advertising campaigns continue to inspire today. In 1999, following the acquisition of Yves Saint Laurent by the Gucci group, Tom was appointed as the head of design at the French heritage brand. Saint Laurent himself was not fond of Tom's work and stated "the poor man does what he can." Although Ford's designs were not as popular at Yves Saint Laurent as they were at Gucci, he managed to increase revenue and bring the brand into the modernity that was beginning to reshape fashion. In April 2004, Tom left the Gucci Group after a disagreement concerning the group's purchase by François-Henri Pinault, marking a low point in his career. In 2005, Tom launched his own label, separate from any group, and continued to create exquisite clothing and accessories for 17 years. His designs have been worn by numerous celebrities and personalities, including First Lady Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, Anne Hathaway, Julianne Moore, Hugh Jackman, and many others. Tom Ford married his longtime partner, Richard Buckley, in 2014. Only 7 years later, Richard sadly passed away in 2021 at the age of 72 after a prolonged illness. They had spent a total of 35 years together. Tom said in a 2016 interview about Richard, "The first time I can remember seeing his eyes it freaked me out. I really could almost not look at him. There was something in his eyes that said: ‘Literally, the rest of your life.’ It was wonderful, but very scary."
In November 2022, the Estée Lauder group acquired Tom Ford for a staggering 2.8 billion US dollars, and according to Forbes magazine, Tom would have received over 1 billion dollars from the deal. Tom left the design of the brand to longtime collaborater and partner, Peter Hawkings.
Written by James V. Thomas.