BILLION-DOLLAR FASHION DESIGNER, AWARD-WINNING FILM DIRECTOR, GAY FATHER, RECOVERING ADDICT, OBSESSIVE PERFECTIONIST AND DEPRESSIVE INSOMNIAC. YES, MR FORD IS ALL OF THESE AND MUCH MORE. NOW, THE COMPLICATED POLYMATH SETS THE WORLD TO RIGHTS.
Tom Ford has excelled in everything he’s touched. But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the film and fashion master.
When the fashion designer Tom Ford suddenly announced that he was going to have a crack at making movies on the side, Hollywood laughed at the apparently arrogant audacity, rubbing its hands in expectation of a flop, ruinous to both his finances and reputation. But the surprising result, 2009’s A Single Man, was a critically acclaimed tour de force that earned lead Colin Firth an Oscar nomination and its writer/ director universal respect. Now Ford, 55, is returning to screens with Nocturnal Animals, a keenly anticipated thriller which, ever the control freak, he once again wrote, produced, directed and financed. And, once again, it’s generating early awards buzz for leads Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams – perhaps even Ford too. The designer certainly hasn’t given up the day job, though – managing to find the time, energy and necessary headspace to make movies while simultaneously creating clothes, accessories and cosmetics that, collectively, make a lot of money. His brand, founded 10 years ago, is one of the world’s most successful, a “mass luxury” empire with an annual turnover of more than a billion dollars, with Ford’s personal wealth estimated to be anywhere between $260m and $400m. But the professional success has not come without personal cost. Ford, now teetotal, spent his thirties and forties as a “highly functioning alcoholic” and has had his battles with drugs, depression and insomnia. He still only manages to get about three or four hours sleep a night, describing his compulsive perfectionism as “almost a mental illness”. Ford says that fatherhood in his fifties has changed him. He and his partner of 30 years, Richard Buckley, 68, have a three-year-old son, Jack, born through IVF and a surrogate. GQ has met Mr Ford a number of times over the past 10 years, but when we last spoke, a year back, he seemed very much in the ‘baby bubble’: claiming to have hardly worked out in two years; admitting that his once-immaculate home was strewn with plastic toys, and, as the few flecks of grey in his beard betrayed, he’d even dialled down his famously fastidious grooming routine. Today, 12 months on, and Ford’s back – back with a new movie, back in shape and back with his perfectly manscaped game face in order to promote it. Because, after all, Tom Ford is the best advert for Tom Ford. GQ: Did you have any ‘sophomore-album’ nerves about Nocturnal Animals? Tom Ford: The day you start to not feel nervous about things, and completely sure about yourself, is the day it all starts to fall apart and you fail. You have to question everything. GQ: Was there more pressure this time, following the success of A Single Man? TF: It’s different pressure. There was a lot of pressure with A Single Man because a lot of people didn’t think I had any clue about what I was doing. [And] I didn’t realise until after, when journalists started asking me: ‘How did it feel to know that everyone was laughing at you when you wanted to make a film?’ That was a revelation. ‘What do you mean people were laughing at me?’ I had people say, ‘Oh yeah, no one believed you could do this. People in Los Angeles thought it was a joke.’ There was a certain amount to prove with A Single Man. Now, there’s a different sort of pressure, you know. ‘Was it a fluke? Can he make a second one? Will it be as good?’ GQ: How is it that you can switch from fashion to film? Is it exercising the same creative muscle for you, or are they two very different things? TF: People ask, ‘How did you know how to do this?’ But it’s the exact same process. Whether creating a collection or directing a film, you have to have a vision, you have to have something to say, a point of view. Then you have to hire incredibly talented people around you to help fulfil your vision. Then you have to inspire those people, create an environment and a place where they can perform, where they can be creative. At the same time, without de-motivating them, you have to direct and guide them, and get them to fulfil your vision, while making them feel good about what they’re doing, letting them contribute. Then, you edit. You take all of what you have and pull it back into your original concept. GQ: How do you get the best out of those you employ?
TF: It’s about working with people. You have to be a psychologist. I have to be that with design assistants who work for me, or with fabric mills. You can’t insult people and expect to get something creative out of them. You have to find positive ways to say, ‘Well, OK, this isn’t really what I wanted, but why don’t we try to do it this way because – wow! – you’re so good when you do this...’ GQ: Technically, though, are film and fashion removed? TF: Obviously, there are technical differences but, in
fashion, I’ve spent a lot of time on sets with photographers. I understand lighting, photography and telling the story through clothing, photographs, images... For me, they’re similar in a lot of ways. GQ: And what is it you’re trying to say with this movie?
TF: I’m old-fashioned and believe that there should be a moral to the story – you should take something away from the movie theatre. The central theme of this story is, ‘Don’t throw people away.’ When you find great people in your life, when you find your soul mate, when you find people that mean something to you, hold on to them... The whole thing is kind of set against the backdrop of our ridiculous throwaway culture where, you know, if life gets tough, ‘Oh, divorce your wife, get rid of her, get somebody new’, or, ‘Quit your job, fire that person, get rid of them, move on...’ GQ: And you value loyalty, you have a soul mate...
TF: I’ve been with Richard for 30 years. I have people working in my design studio who have worked for me for 25... I’m really, really, really loyal. I think most people in life don’t need more than four or five really close friends. Even two or three can be pretty great. I might be a very lucky person and have 10. When Richard and I got married, we had eight people [at the ceremony] – no family members, just eight people. They were all people that we really, truly love. GQ: What kind of boss and director would you say you are?
TF: Well, I hope people would say that I’m kind. I don’t think I blow up and scream at people. I’m very demanding, but I don’t expect anything from anyone I wouldn’t do myself. By the way, I don’t mind picking up a vacuum and hoovering the carpet if I have to. If it’s dirty and, you know, it’s right there and I have five minutes, I can just do that... I guess what I’m saying is that I expect a lot
from people, but it isn’t any more than I would expect from myself. I’m also very direct – I know, instantly, if I like it, or I hate it, or I don’t like it, or I love it. I’m very strong and opinionated but, I hope, fair. GQ: How is it that you’re able to do so many different things – where do you find the time? TF: Scheduling – I’m crazy about it. A lot of people might not like to live that way. I do. It’s the only way I can function. I’m terrible with surprises, I hate surprises. I’m not generally spontaneous. That might be a negative for a lot of people. I’m somebody who likes ritual and regime and routine. I have to have it down on my schedule. I plan everything. The two times I’ve made a film, I’ve planned a year and a half in advance so that I had those three months to shoot absolutely free. I plan everything. GQ: What keeps you awake?
TF: I have a real sleeping problem, but when I’m relaxed and away from the office, I tend to be able to sleep very well with no sleeping pills. It’s, I guess, just my mind racing – if I wake up in the middle of the night for any reason, my mind immediately starts to think, ‘I need to do this, I need to do that. Did I do that?’ Once it goes, that’s it, it’s over – I might as well get up and make myself some coffee, because I can’t shut it off. It’s not a particular thing, it’s more just a pattern of the way my brain works. GQ: How do you switch off when you need to?
TF: Well, I play a lot of tennis – most mornings, four or five times a week. I think when you’re doing something like the sports I’ve always gravitated to – tennis, skiing or horse riding – they’re all the same in that you can’t think. Maybe most sports are this way? You can’t think about anything but that ball coming at you; or, when you’re on a horse, you know, you have to be very aware of everything or the horse will throw you off. You have to be very present.
It’s the same with skiing... All your worries, all your cares, everything goes away. It’s highly meditative for me, those kinds of sports. Also, I lie in a hot bath. GQ: Do you still take five a day?
TF: Now that I have Jack, I don’t take five, but I certainly take three. I couldn’t function in the morning unless I could lie in a bathtub of hot water, drink a cup of coffee and wake up. That for me is incredibly meditative; it’s where I organise my thoughts and my brain is able to then switch into a higher gear and get through the day. GQ: That’s the morning ritual?
TF: Oh that’s definitely the morning ritual. I get up really early, sometimes at 4:30 or 5am, so I can do that and have plenty of time to myself before anyone else in the house wakes up. I often go down to the gym and work out and then come back and get dressed. Then I’m ready to get Jack dressed at 7:30. GQ: What’s your grooming regimen like these days?
TF: I don’t know whether it’s Jack or whether it’s just getting older, but I’ve relaxed on that. But right now, I’m highly groomed because I’m about to go into a spotlight of interviews, photographs, photo calls, press [for Nocturnal Animals] and so I’ve had to kind of pull myself together. The beard’s in good shape – it’s perfectly manicured, just the right shade of brown. It’s perfect, just a little bit of grey in there. GQ: Any guilty pleasures?
TF: Oh God. Oooh, masturbating to porn? I don’t know. My guiltiest pleasure... I suppose that sounds like I should be eating Magnum ice creams. I’m not eating those at the moment – I’m being very good. I don’t have a guilty pleasure other than internet porn. I think that might be it. GQ: Are you happy in life?
TF: Yeah, I am happy. [But] what is ‘happy’, anyway? I think that my films are a little bit about this. I think that our culture, for maybe the first time in history, in the last hundred years or so, through the commercialisation of things and through trying to sell people products – we set a kind of artificial goal of happiness. What is ‘happy’? All of us, every day, go through happy moments, sad moments, frustrating moments. In our lives, we have happy periods and then we have very sad periods. All those things are part of life and this idea that there’s a ‘happy life’ isn’t realistic. It isn’t actually the course of life, and yet our entire culture is built around, ‘Whoo, we can be happy!’ Can you really just be happy? I don’t think so. Yes, I’m happy, but what does that mean? Yes, as happy as a person can be. I also expect that maybe later today I’ll be sad or upset or depressed or angry or irritated. It’s normal. GQ: You’ve struggled with depression in the past – it’s obviously something that you still need to monitor. TF: Of course. That’s the kind of thing you’re born with and I think it’s with you forever. GQ: What are the warning signs and how do you manage it?
TF: Honestly, the dark side creeps in when I don’t have enough to do – when I have free time to kind of ponder and think. When I’m working, or I’m busy building something or creating something or doing something, that subsides. GQ: How are you finding fatherhood these days?
TF: You find new things every day because [your child] finds new things every day. As they develop and evolve, you do as well. You just can’t believe that you could love your child any more, but of course, every day and every month, you love them even more. You can’t believe how much you love them.