Posted in Art, Design, Disillustionment, Excellency, Expectation, Fashion, Icon, Literature, Lust, Media, Nostalgia, Style by The Excellent People on November 1, 2009
Former Gucci designer Tom Ford on the set of A Single Man, his new film, to be released later this year by the formerly Excellent Harvey Weinstein. Image approved by the newly Excellent director Tom Ford
INTRODUCTION: The Silence of the Lambs
“He controlled everything, not just the design, not just the runway shows, but the stores, the advertising, the packaging, the bags that people carried out the doors, he was a complete control freak, and that’s what made the company successful.”–Patrick McCarthy
“Tom doesn’t want the book to happen.” Someone who was accustomed to, and who enjoyed the luxury of saying no uttered these words authoritatively, with a certain casual threat of impending finality. Lisa Schiek, the former worldwide director of communications at Gucci Group NV, was calling from her London office early one frosty morning last winter to inform me that Tom Ford—the about-to-depart creative director of Gucci and (more recently) Yves Saint Laurent—had declined my request to be interviewed for this book. When informed that the project would move forward with (preferably, hopefully) or without (regrettably, sadly) Tom’s corporation, Schiek’s reply was swift, cordially dismissive, yet matter of fact. “What if Tom calls the publisher?”
“Why?” I asked.
“To tell them not to publish the book,” Schiek said.
“What if Tom called me?” I countered, trying to avoid conflict and explaining that the book was meant to be inspirational to readers and would focus solely on Ford’s work history for Gucci. No hardcore personal details (Just the facts!), no Kitty Kelley-ish prying. Silence. Or was it a snicker? Then: “He’ll just tell all of his friends not to talk to you.” End of discussion. The Guru of Gucci, the King of Cool, the Lord of 1990s Luxe, had spoken, his wish and command delivered by one of his highly paid disciples.
And so it came to pass that mum was the word from a host of “Friends of Tom”: fashion industry professionals and power brokers contacted to comment on his stellar and illustrious career at Gucci. First to refuse was Cathy Hardwick, the woman who gave Ford his first break as a young would-be designer in 1986 (“What I saw was Heaven,” Hardwick said of Ford in 1995 when he received his first International Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. “He had such a fantastic presence, a beautiful face, and elegant hands. I hired him 10 minutes later!”). Tim Blanks, host of Fashion Television, when first contacted, enthusiastically agreed to be interviewed, offering both his office and personal cell phone numbers, but a few days later emailed to say that he was saving his thoughts and comments about Ford for his own Tom Ford project. Kal Ruttenstein, fashion director of Bloomingdale’s and Scott Tepper, fashion director of Henri Bendel didn’t return repeated calls. Kate Betts, a former editor of Harper’s Bazaar, now editor of Time, Inc’s Life and Style magazine offered her expertise as someone who had written extensively about Ford, but once she found out it wasn’t a Ford-sanctioned project changed her mind, as did many others.
Harold Koda, chief curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which in 2003 mounted the very well attended and profitable “Goddess” exhibition, sponsored in part by the Gucci Group, was unavailable when contacted. He was traveling in Europe, where he was surely to see Tom, from whom he would, possibly, seek permission to speak with me I was informed. “He and Tom are good friends and unless Tom aggress, he won’t be able to speak to you,” said a spokeswoman for the Costume Institute, which has a sizable collection of Tom Ford for Gucci pieces in its permanent collection. Dawn Mello, who was brought in to help revive Gucci back in 1990, and who is widely credited with hiring Ford (although later disposed of “Kremlin-style” by Gucci in 1994, according to a fashion journalist with knowledge of the situation) first checked with Ford and, after being warned, refused to speak.
Former assistants and design team colleagues of Ford also wouldn’t go on the record. Francisco Costa, the new head designer at Calvin Klein and formerly an assistant to Ford at Gucci demurred through a company publicist, though he was kind enough to wish me the best with the project. Photographers Mario Testino, Terry Richardson, and ad man Doug Lloyd, who conceived and worked on many of Gucci’s most iconic advertising campaigns followed suit. Andrea Gonzalex, alumni director of Santa Fe Prep, the New Mexico preparatory school attended by Thomas R. Ford (Class of ’79) refused to comment, after at first offering to supply me with a a copy of Santa Fe Prep Magazine to which Ford had recently granted an interview (‘It’s in the public domain,” she had originally said. “That shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll mail it to you.”). The offer was kindly rescinded after she phoned the Gucci offices in London. “I’ve spoken with Tom’s office and we cannot take part in any project that is not approved by him,” was her official statement before quickly hanging up the phone when I called to check on the estimated arrival date of the promised magazine. The list goes on. Hundreds of phone calls where made, as many faxes were sent, emails languished in the ether of the chicest computer networks in the top fashion capitals of the world.
It’s understandable, perhaps. It’s predictable, certainly. After all, with Ford’s career in flux and while tout le monde contemplates his next move, no one wants to offend him by saying anything good or bad (unless whispered sotto voce) about him. After all, there are photo ops to be had at the next fashion awards show, there are private dinners to attend in Paris, London, Los Angeles, New York, New Mexico or other locations where the jet-setting Tom Ford might find himself on any given day. There are front row invitations to the next Ford fashion show to covet and consider –all important matters to a true-blooded fashionista.
So, how to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? This book is a look at Tom Ford the way that he, perhaps, would, most likely, prefer it, a look at his career and work history through his eyes and the words and images that he has projected, through his collections and advertising campaigns for Gucci. This work has propelled him into the pop culture lexicon. It is a brief study of “Tom Ford for Gucci,” as the magazine credits mysteriously (yet purposely) began to read a few years ago. Now that all the post Gucci hubbub and the backstage, backbiting whispers about him have somewhat died down; now that the heartfelt and bitter tears over his departure from the Gucci Group have dried up, it is now time to examine the fashion legacy of Tom Ford. Not Tom Ford the man, but Tom Ford the icon. The following words will do just that.
THE EXCELLENT PEOPLE: A MEMOIR (EXCERPT)
Posted in Art, Beauty, Cinema, Communication, Design, Desire, Disillustionment, Excellency, Fashion, Icon, Literature, Loyalty, Lust, Luxury, Media, Music, Nostalgia, Photography, Society, Style, Technology, The Look, Theater, Thought, Travel, Visuals by The Excellent People on January 28, 2010
Tom Ford at his final Gucci show. February, 24, 20004.
‘cause you’re free
To do what you want to do
You’ve got to live your life
Do what you want to do
–Ultra Nate, “Free”
Milan, Italy. February 25, 2004, 7 p.m.
Best Actress winner Charlize Theron at the 76th Academ Awards ceremony. February 29, 2004. Gown by Tom Ford for Gucci.
Pink rose petals, and teardrops. Both are falling, raining, cascading in vast abundance inside Theatre Diana, a former movie theatre located in Milan’s Piazza Oberdan. Tom Ford, the creative director of Gucci, dressed in a black tuxedo, a gardenia tucked into his lapel, takes a final, almost stoic, walk down a pale pink sheepskin-covered runway. He is presenting his last fashion show for the legendary Florentine fashion house, a collection comprised of updated versions of his hard-edged, sex-charged signature looks from seasons past (black suits, fan-seamed to accentuate the curves; decadent fox fur stoles; bomber jackets made of Python skin and leather; knee-length corset skirts; gowns made of slivers of satin in acid lime, chartreuse and cobalt blue; white column dresses with plunging necklines and subtle cut-outs disclosing hints of flesh). As the singer Ultra Nate’s 1996 house music classic Free thumps and blares from the sound system, there is hardly a dry eye in the room. The black clad crowd of editors, buyers, retailers, friends, and foes leaps to its feet to salute, clap, cheer, and bid a weepy farewell to the 42-year-old charismatic man with matinee idol looks. Tom Ford, a former model-slash-actor, who, in astutely attaching his fortunes and applying his acute creative design and business acumen to a fading company more than10 years prior (astoundingly upping that company’s cache and clout in the process) is now a legend, a star himself, his name, his persona, more famous and more seductive, than the Gucci brand itself.
The Gucci after-party. Midnight.
It’s raining rose petals (again) inside the Theatre Diana at the Gucci after show fete. More goodbyes. More tears. At the strike of Midnight, in a scene reminiscent of chic, decadent, boogie nights at Studio 54, the famed New York City discotheque of the Seventies (or at least a Tom Ford-produced simulacrum thereof) rose petals descend from the heavens of the Theatre Diana, pouring down over the guests (an edited down, more select list of the same crowd from the earlier Gucci show) who are partying like it’s 1979. Ford and his longtime romantic partner, Richard Buckley, a journalist and editor of Vogue Hommes International, the Paris-based men’s fashion magazine, observe the double G-rated bacchanalia from a distance, ensconced in a corner away from the throngs who are jostling for drinks at the bar. Shortly after midnight the couple disappear and board a private jet bound for Los Angeles and the runway of the west, the red carpet of Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre, site of the 76th Academy Awards ceremony.
Hollywood Boulevard. February 29, 2004, 5 p.m. PST
Deja vu: model Daria Werbowy wears a look from Tom Ford’s final collection for Yves Saint Laurent. Paris, March 7, 2004. Image via Style.com.
At the Kodak Theatre South African actress Charize Theron, one of the night’s Best Actress nominees for her career making role in the film “Monster,” slithers along the red carpet, the fashion world’s most important catwalk, towards the building’s entrance amid pops and flashes of paparazzi camera lenses. She pauses only briefly here and there to field the questions and demands of an international crew of news and celebrity reporters from E! Entertainment Television, Access Hollywood, and Entertainment Tonight. When her category winner is announced hours later, billions of eyes are on Theron as she gives her acceptance speech, clutching her Oscar. Her gown, a spaghetti strapped, crystal-encrusted, champagne colored number designed by Tom Ford for Gucci, glitters and shimmers under the house lights as brightly and insistently as her dazzling smile, an image that will be broadcast on television programs and shown in newspapers and magazines around the globe ad infinitum.
Paris, France. March 7, 2004, 8 p.m.
The gardens of The Musee Rodin, home to Auguste Rodin’s famous sculpture The Thinker, are bathed in red light from the Chinese paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling as the sound of classical music and the aroma of Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium perfume waft through the air. The mood is Chinoiserie and déjà vu as East meets West, Orient Express-style in Tom Ford’s final show for Yves Saint Laurent, also owned by the Gucci Group. The show is an hommage to YSL’s famous 1977 Chinese-inspired Opium collection. There are fitted jackets with Chairman Mao collars in red, emerald green, and chocolate brown. Furs are shaved in the pattern of dragon scales, tight jet beaded jackets shine like lacquered cabinets. A model wearing a black crocodile anorak with a mink-lined hood floats down the runway. Cocktail dresses come with fan shaped beading; sequined sheath dresses come in yellow or red, slashed to the thigh. Then! A black sequined gown with a gold lotus blossom pattern. The crowd jumps to its feet in appreciation. Ford, dressed in a red velvet tuxedo jacket, walks down the red carpeted runway, and simply mouths the words “Thank you” as the appreciative crowd cheers and applauds from the sidelines, roaring their approval as if witnessing a final curtain call for Madame Butterfly at the Paris Opera House. Another image is forever seared into the collective pop culture consciousness.
A star is reborn in 2010: Tom Ford in Hollywood, directing A Single Man. Publicity still.
“Always leave them wanting more,”
as the old Hollywood saying goes, And Tom Ford, since making the decision to the leave Gucci amid rumors of salary disputes and issues of control had done just that. Leaving at a career pinnacle after showing his last collection for Gucci, dressing Best Actress Charlize Theron for the Oscars, and presenting his last runway show for Yves Saint Laurent; all in less than a fortnight. Now liberated from his contract with the Gucci Group, as Ultra Nate’s recorded voice had sung at that final Gucci show, Ford was free to live his life; free to do want he wanted to do. But what would it be? By 2004 Ford had become the leading man of the biggest cliffhanger in fashion history and in the weeks following his departure from Gucci, the company he helped rebuild, Tom Ford Minus Gucci became Topic A in conversations among the fashion cognoscenti. In fact it seemed that Tom Ford (and what he would do next) was all anyone could talk about.
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