INGRID SISCHY: So Tom–Paris. You’re growing up and–
TOM FORD: Growing up? I’m getting old!
IS: [laughs] I’m taking you back to when you were a child.
TF: Oh, I thought you meant now. [laughs]
IS: Later for now. So when you were a young pup did you have a romance about Paris? A fantasy about it?
TF: I think all Americans have a fantasy about Paris, and I think it really dates back to the 19th century when a lot of the best things came from Paris. I mean, go back and look at any TV show that you watched as a child. Look at popular culture from our childhood, from the ’60s or the ’70s, and there’s always an episode where “They’re going to PARIS!” or “Oh, and here’s your gown from PARIS!” and “Here’s your perfume from PARIS!” and the way the word is used it becomes so ingrained in your brain that France is superior, and that all the products produced in France are superior and that if anything is chic it is French. It’s part of American mythology at this point.
IS: As a youngster, did you rebel against that idea?
TF: No. As a youngster I embraced it, because I wasn’t living in New York City, I was living in Texas and in Santa Fe. New York City was already ultra-glamorous, but Paris was even more glamorous. It hit me tenfold because of the fact that I didn’t live in a major American city.
IS: When did you first go there?
TF: I didn’t go to Paris until I was 20 years old. I was living in New York, and I decided I’d never been to Paris, so I bought a ticket and went.
IS: Was it hard for you, financially speaking?
TF: No. Unfortunately, I was a spoiled child.
IS: And where did you stay when you first went?
TF: I stayed at the Hotel des Saints Peres on the rue Saints Peres. I had the room with the swan over my bed.
IS: [gasps] That’s so stylish for a 20-year-old.
TF: Well, it wasn’t the Ritz.
IS: [both laugh] So you had a little swan above your bed?
TF: It was a guy carrying a swan, as I recall. I used to know the number of the room. Anyway, it was a pivotal trip because I really loved Paris, and then I decided to go to school there. I later switched from Parsons [School of Design] New York to Parsons Paris, and I had a little apartment on the rue Charlot in the third, and I did that for a year, and then I worked at Chloe for about eight months in the press department. After that, I decided to go into fashion. I was studying architecture at the time. I was actually in Russia on a trip with two friends, and I was staying in a hotel. . .
IS: On one of your spy trips, right?
TF: On one of my spy trips. [both laugh] No, it was just a vacation. I was staying in what was then Leningrad, and I just remember sitting up in bed one night, thinking, This is stupid. Why am I doing this? I should be a fashion designer. I’m in the wrong business. And that was when I decided to become a fashion designer. But it didn’t really have anything to do necessarily with the glamour of a French house, although Karl Lagerfeld at the time was in his very first season or two of Chanel, and that was pretty amazing.
IS: That first time when you were walking around Paris, what did you feel?
TF: Oh, I cried the first time I walked around Paris. In fact, I cried the whole trip. Everything was so beautiful I just couldn’t believe it. I just cried and cried. And I felt instantly comfortable in Paris. I have always felt comfortable in Paris. That’s the funny thing. I mean, I didn’t speak French at the time, but I felt instantly at home.
IS: And even later, when you went to Italy to work for Gucci, you kept an apartment in Paris, right?
TF: Oh, yes! Richard [Buckley] and I would go there on the weekend, to be able to go out to restaurants and to see films. We had a lot of friends in Paris, and there is much more street life in Paris than there was in Milan, and it was just a fix that we both needed.
IS: And then, once the big tamale happened, Tom…
IS: Was it a “pinch me, I feel like I’m dreaming” kind of situation? Or at that point was it that there wasn’t space for that kind of excitement? Taking into account the fear, the nervousness, the anticipation, the great moments, the awful moments, are there times when you just can’t believe what happened to you?
TF: No, but I’ve just never been that way. I’m never a “pinch me” sort of person. [both laugh] I have to be honest. You know, I work so hard, and I’m so focused and, you know, the process to get there was quite long. I knew we were planning on buying the company, then we completed the sale, then we went through this, then we went through that, then we moved in, and you know, it isn’t like one day I just woke up and I was at Saint Laurent.
IS: Well, what a great challenge it is.
TF: It is a great challenge. That’s absolutely true. And I love challenges. I love jumping through hoops. I love, you know, raising the bar higher and higher and I suppose this is as high as the bar goes. I am here to do this.
Tom Ford is the creative Director for Gucci Group and the chief Designer and creative Director for both Yves saint Laurent Rive Gauche and Gucci.