Last month as part of its Concert & Lecture Series, the Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted a conversation between Vogue Editor-at-Large André Leon Talley and Tom Ford (former Creative Director for Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent—for the uninitiated, or anyone who doesn’t follow fashion very closely or maybe you’ve just been living under a rock). During the hour-long commentary, the two gave their perspectives on fashion, style, influences, inspirations, and aspirations.
One of Tom Ford’s earliest influences was his grandmother, “She was very stylish…she taught me a fantasy side of life. She believed life should be fun. I grew up in a very practical household…I would say I liked something and she would say I’m going to get you TWENTY.” While he didn’t delve into his personal reasons for leaving PPR in 2004, nor did he think it was appropriate to comment on his successors, he discussed the pace of fashion and life in general; how we’ve become a culture of mass-production, that’s a little too streamlined and comfortable. “In today’s world we live in more and more about icons and less and less about nuance. I think it’s sad and we need to start putting a bit of nuance back in our lives.” He talked about fashion as being very aspirational, “I’m uncomfortable dressed to be comfortable because I think you sacrifice a huge part of the beauty of life. What you represent is a form of manners, because you’re inflicting yourself on the world when you walk out your door. He likened it to eating a hamburger off a piece of paper, “I happen to love that on certain occasions, but also getting properly dressed and eating off a beautiful plate and making a special effort to cook dinner. All those things add quality to our life that are very important and elevate life and elevate us and elevate the experience that we go through during the day to something that can be very meaningful.”
Mr. Talley commented on how Mr. Ford had always approached his collection as a cinematic experience. When Tom Ford left women’s fashion he started his own film company to pursue another creative passion of his. Mr. Ford recalled a time [7or 8 years ago] when he met Brad Pitt for drinks. The actor said he was thinking about becoming a fashion designer. Mr. Ford explained all the work and emotion involved, “You do this and you do that and then you try to get them to cry and you move them and you start with something strong and then you…and he [Brad Pitt] just started laughing. He said, ‘What do you mean people cry?’ Sometimes you really can cry at fashion shows if you see something that’s so beautiful and moves you in a way to your core it can have that sort of power.”
Mr. Ford delved into justification and rationale as he described his reinvention of the Gucci brand evolving it from riding clothes to a sleek modern thing. “Every time I design anything I think why do you want this and how am I going to justify this.” André snapped back with the example of Gucci dog bowls and asked what the justification for that was. Of course, the ever-eloquent Mr. Ford had an answer for that. He described a consumer who buys a $20,000 dress, who will spend a fortune having her house decorated. “Visual things are clearly important to the person. You have a dog for 12 or 13 years, hopefully, and you have to look at a bowl sitting there in your brand new beautiful kitchen, so isn’t that ugly, old cheap bowl going to irritate you everyday?” This of course sent the crowd into uproarious laughter.
The CFDA winner described personal style as knowing what you’re about, what you want to say, and loving it. He also said you can’t just throw money at things to make them stylish. André Leon Talley echoed this sentiment, “Style is not about money, but who you are, how you express yourself, and how you treat other people. It’s about graciousness, it’s about grace, it’s about gratitude.”
Tom also expounded on perceptions of beauty and getting excited about fashion. “The things we think of as beautiful are often the things that were our first experience with beauty…Things sometimes lose their validity when there’s too much and when change is simply brought on for the sake of change it devalues what we do and makes things ultra-disposable. You can’t lie when you create something. If you’re excited, somehow you can endow that inanimate object with that excitement and when someone comes across it, they can feel it…We produce and we produce and we produce and we sometimes don’t believe in what we’re doing. I think it’s one of the reasons people buy vintage clothes today, they want to feel special. They want to feel the power of this amazing thing that transcends fashion and time.”
During the Q&A Session, Tom Ford discussed being an American who went to Europe to revitalize two extremely important and very traditionally classic European houses, “I went to Europe to figure out what I was about. When you’re in your own culture, you can’t hear yourself think, often you’ve been so formed by your own environment…I knew I would never find out what I was about as a designer, creatively, unless I left my own environment.” When asked who else he would want be, the designer replied, “I’m very, very happy being myself…because I think that we’re all given gifts…we have to make the best of the things that we’ve been born with, I really think you have to learn and grow and develop and I’m just so happy and so lucky and I wouldn’t change.”
BY Lisa Martinez