Tom Ford Wants You To Separate His Fashion Designs From His Films

Nov 17, 2016
Originally published on November 17, 2016 1:35 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

There's one name uttered on red carpets perhaps just as much as Oscar.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Tom Ford, everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right, Tom Ford.

MARGOT ROBBIE: Whatever you want, Tom Ford. I will wear anything of yours.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: This is Tom Ford.

INSKEEP: Tom Ford, the fashion designer, is also a movie director. His latest film "Nocturnal Animals" is a drama of revenge. It stars Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal and it opens today. NPR's Mandalit del Barco met the director in a sleek West Hollywood office.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: A beautiful woman in stiletto heels walks me and my editor through a studio that is the antechamber to Tom Ford's office. The studio is pristine and stark. Two oversized mirrors stand as sentries. Just outside his door hangs an enormous blurry photograph of a man pleasuring himself. Welcome to Tom Ford's world.

TOM FORD: Are you recording me? (Laughter) You're holding that right in my face.

DEL BARCO: Unlike my scruffy microphone, Ford's office is immaculate. And so is he, in a tailored black suit, a crisp white shirt unbuttoned at the collar and gold cufflinks, the kind James Bond wore in "Skyfall." His chiseled face is framed by Tom Ford eyeglasses and a perfectly groomed 5 o'clock shadow.

FORD: Well, first of all, I hope people will put aside Tom Ford the fashion designer and think about Tom Ford the filmmaker.

DEL BARCO: His new flick is set in two worlds he knows well - the elite Los Angeles art world and wild, rural western Texas. Ford says the main characters echo different sides of his personality. There's Susan, perfectly quaffed and powerful, a wealthy gallery owner played by Amy Adams.

FORD: She's completely miserable. She's quite insecure. She really is an artist at heart. And she longs for a different kind of life. And I suppose the part that is autobiographical is her struggle in justifying the materialism of her life with the more spiritual side of her life which she has neglected.

DEL BARCO: Then there's Edward, her ex-husband. He's written a novel dedicated to Susan about a Texas man whose wife and daughter are brutalized. In this story within a story, both Edward and his protagonist are played by Jake Gyllenhaal.

FORD: Jake's character is perceived of as weak.

DEL BARCO: Ford says he can relate to that, having grown up in Texas in the 1960s.

FORD: Part of my family were ranchers. So you were expected to be quite macho. You weren't expected to cry. I was the exact opposite of that. I was the sensitive, shy kid that was teased a lot. I was very definitely bullied. I mean, from an early age, I dressed more like an adult, you know, jackets and very slim trousers and a raincoat. And I - even when I was 7, 8, 9-years-old, carried an attache case to school because I just hated the sloppiness of a book bag.

DEL BARCO: His family moved to Santa Fe, then Ford hightailed it to New York to study art history and architecture. There in the late 1970s, he spent many a night at Studio 54.

FORD: If you were young and you were attractive - which I was at that time - and you knew the right people, you could get in into Studio for free.

DEL BARCO: Ford appeared in a few commercials before setting his sights on the fashion world. He says despite his lack of experience, a designer named Cathy Hardwick hired him.

FORD: Later she told me that she wasn't that impressed with my work, but that I had beautiful hands and a nice face.

DEL BARCO: In New York, Ford met the man who would become his husband, Mens Fashion Magazine editor Richard Buckley. They moved to Europe, where Ford began working for Gucci, designing women's ready-to-wear. Soon he was defining the seductive style of the 1990s. His career took off after he dressed Madonna in a teal blue satin shirt and velvet hip huggers for the 1995 Video Music Awards. She promoted his brand.

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MADONNA: So I have to work my Gucci shoes into the shot - OK? - then they'll let me keep them. Gucci.

DEL BARCO: Gucci, Gucci, Gucci was Madonna's red carpet mantra. Ford became a fashion celebrity, even inspiring Jay-Z to write a song in his honor.

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JAY-Z: (Rapping) I don't pop molly, I rock Tom Ford. International, bring back the Concorde.

DEL BARCO: Ford helped revive Gucci, turning the once-bankrupt company into a multibillion dollar luxury brand. He was also creative director of Yves Saint Laurent. For more than a decade, he shuttled between London, Paris and Italy, designing 16 collections a year. But he doesn't want to talk about all that.

FORD: If you don't think this is a tired story, I'm happy to repeat it. But it's so tired if anyone just happens to go on the internet and click on my name.

DEL BARCO: Google Tom Ford and you'll find a new line of eyewear, menswear, fragrance and beauty lines, 122 Tom Ford stores. Tom Ford the company is a billion-dollar fashion business. He leans back in his chair with his eyes closed and sighs.

FORD: Yeah. I really - this is stupid to talk about, I'm sorry, because everyone in the world who knows anything about fashion knows about the story. It's a drag. I hate wasting our interview time talking about it.

DEL BARCO: Well, I don't know...

FORD: But if you really think anyone - I'm sorry, if you don't know this part, I'm not being egotistical, then whatever. Because this has been written about ad nauseum.

DEL BARCO: Why don't you jump into...

FORD: Let's talk about film.

DEL BARCO: But even in his films, style is essential. In 2009 with no prior filmmaking experience, Ford wrote and directed "A Single Man." He cast one of his famous muses, Julianne Moore, and Colin Firth. His role as an impeccably-dressed gay professor in 1962 earned an Oscar nomination. Ford says his Hollywood friends were surprised by the film's critical success.

FORD: People said, wow, I had no idea. Did you have any idea how ridiculous people thought you were? Oh, we thought you were a complete fool. We didn't think you could do that. And I remember being so surprised because I didn't doubt that I could do it.

DEL BARCO: Ford's experience in fashion does find its way to the set, says his newest leading actress Amy Adams.

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AMY ADAMS: He's very involved in the details of things. He's a very decisive, authoritative director.

DEL BARCO: Jake Gyllenhaal, though, admits he had reservations about taking direction from Ford in "Nocturnal Animals."

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JAKE GYLLENHAAL: Initially I had my idea that he would have this sort of obsession with aesthetic, which I think he does. You know, I watched him pick everybody's nail color, their hair color. And with me, there was none of that. And from the very beginning of our relationship, I insisted on that. I said I will be very angry if you dismiss the truth of a moment because you don't think it looks pretty.

I mean, and look, I'm still wearing clothes that look really nice in the movie. There's things he can't necessarily let go. There was a moment where we were filming a scene where it said in the script his desk is a mess. And I walked on the set and it was, like, perfectly organized. And I said, Tom, it says - the script is - the desk is a mess. And he said, I don't know how to do that. You know, and I said OK. He said, so mess it up yourself, you know, and I said OK (laughter).

DEL BARCO: As a director and a designer, Tom Ford has a reputation as a controlling perfectionist. And even as our interview winds down, he can't seem to help but try to run the show.

FORD: Are you still recording this? Turn that off.

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.