Tom Ford tells Don­ald Clarke about the switch from fash­ion to film-mak­ing,

He di­rected it, co-wrote it and paid for it, but Tom Ford’s de­but movie, A Sin­gle Man, is no van­ity project. The top fash­ion de­signer tells Don­ald Clarke how he found his style

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

I USU­ALLY PUT on clean socks for an in­ter­view, but, when pre­par­ing to meet Tom Ford, I put on ex­tra clean socks. And a nice shirt. And trousers without soup stains. In ad­di­tion to be­ing the di­rec­tor of the ter­rific new film A Sin­gle Man, Ford is, of course, one of the world’s most re­spected fash­ion de­sign­ers. Arriving largely un­her­alded at the house of Gucci – which, at the time, was dis­ap­pear­ing up its own leath­ery back­side – he rein­tro­duced oomph to the la­bel and, by many ac­counts, saved it from bank­ruptcy.

“Af­ter the 1980s and Aids, sex had be­come danger­ous and, as a re­sult, fash­ion had be­come rather se­ri­ous,” Ford ex­plains. “I res­ur­rected the idea of sen­su­al­ity, sex­u­al­ity of ac­tu­ally hav­ing fun. I hope I made fash­ion lighter and fresher. I hope it doesn’t sound im­mod­est, but that re­ally helped the com­pany.”

Lurk­ing in the air­port on the way to the in­ter­view, I dally with the no­tion of splash­ing on some Tom Ford fra­grance – he now runs his own la­bel – but de­cide that would be over­do­ing it. Maybe, Tom doesn’t wear his own gear. How would it look if I ar­rived stink­ing of Eau de Ford and he was wear­ing Ar­mani?

“Of course I wear my own clothes,” he gasps in mock out­rage, while flash­ing the in­side la­bel of his jacket at me. “Look. If I wanted a piece of cloth­ing that we didn’t make then there would be some­thing wrong. I would have to de­sign it. If I need some­thing, I make it”

He does look rather smash­ing. Smooth and trim at an un­likely 48, he is wear­ing what, as a fash­ion im­be­cile, I can only de­scribe as a black suit and white shirt. But it’s cer­tainly a nice suit and it’s def­i­nitely a suave shirt. Does he re­ally do all the de­sign him­self?

“Ab­so­lutely. If you go into a store and you see ‘Tom Ford’ on a pair of shoes, do you think that I’ve said to some­body else: ‘Oh put a heel on this’? No. When it has my name on it, that means I de­signed it. Sim­i­larly, when, now, you go and see a Tom Ford film you know that I made it all. It’s my work.”

He’s re­ally not fib­bing. Not only did Ford di­rect and co-write A Sin­gle Man, adapted from a key novel by Christo­pher Ish­er­wood, but the money all came out of his own beau­ti­fully cut pocket. Now, no­body is pre­tend­ing that Ford is short of a bob, but fir­ing a few mil­lion dol­lars at an ec­cen­tric film project re­quires a fairly stag­ger­ing de­gree of self-con­fi­dence.

An­noy­ingly for schaden­freude mer­chants ev­ery­where, the gam­ble seems to have paid off. A Sin­gle Man has picked up de­servedly rap­tur­ous re­views and, af­ter its pre­miere last au­tumn, Colin Firth, the pic­ture’s star, won best ac­tor at the Venice Film Fes­ti­val, and just this week, se­cured an Os­car nom­i­na­tion for Best Ac­tor.

Ford did ini­tially have some in­vestors on

“When it has my name on it, that means I de­signed it. When you go and see a Tom Ford film, you know that I made it all. It’s my work”

hand, but, fol­low­ing cer­tain bank­ing catas­tro­phes in late 2008, their money sud­denly be­came un­avail­able.

“Maybe for a minute, when the money van­ished fol­low­ing the Lehman Broth­ers col­lapse, I did think about pulling out,” he says. “My agent cer­tainly told me to. But a good friend said: ‘No. In­vest in your­self.’ He was right. Now, I un­der­stand that not ev­ery­body can fi­nance their own movie. But that re­mains good ad­vice.”

In A Sin­gle Man, Firth plays Ge­orge, a gay pro­fes­sor at a Los An­ge­les uni­ver­sity who is cop­ing badly with the re­cent death of his longterm lover. Tak­ing place over one, me­lan­choly day, the pic­ture finds Firth con­tem­plat­ing sui­cide, frol­ick­ing with a boozy Ju­lianne Moore and ul­ti­mately flirt­ing with an in­tel­li­gent stu­dent played by Ni­cholas Hoult. It should come as no sur­prise, given the di­rec­tor’s back­ground, that the film looks ab­so­lutely gor­geous. But it looks gor­geous in a very par­tic­u­lar way.

A Sin­gle Man is set in the early 1960s – be­fore the “Six­ties” be­gan, in other words – and, like re­cent works such as Mad Men and Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Road, fetishes the neat suits, bold plas­tics and boozy habits of the era.

Where has this en­thu­si­asm for Kennedy­era Amer­ica sud­denly come from?

“I re­ally don’t know. I love the long hair and the kaf­tans that came af­ter as well,” Ford says. “The book is set in 1962 and, as a gay man in that era, Ge­orge has an ex­tra layer of iso­la­tion. So it was im­por­tant to set it then.”

Ford has a per­sonal con­nec­tion to the ma­te­rial. Raised in Texas and New Mex­ico, he first tried to make it big as an ac­tor.

“I learnt how to pre­tend to be a de­signer or a film di­rec­tor back then. I learned how to pre­tend to be hand­some,” he laughs.

In the early 1980s, while per­form­ing in com­mer­cials and bad TV, he en­coun­tered a num­ber of the gay English ex­pa­tri­ates who had mi­grated to of LA dur­ing the grim (for ho­mo­sex­ual Brits, at least) post-war years. In that pe­riod he met the poet Stephen Spen­der, the painter David Hock­ney and, au­thor of bril­liant quasi-fic­tions such as Good­bye to Berlin, Mr Ish­er­wood him­self.

“The guy who had been my very first boyfriend was liv­ing with David Hock­ney at the time. I spent a lot of time their house. That was an in­cred­i­ble Mecca for gay English­men.”

Among other things, A Sin­gle Man works as a vis­ual paean to the hazy, of­ten mis­un­der­stood beau­ties of Los An­ge­les. Ish­er­wood would surely have ap­pre­ci­ated that as­pect of the pic­ture. He would also have en­joyed the ca­sual, mat­ter-of-fact treat­ment of Ge­orge’s sex­u­al­ity.

Watch­ing A Sin­gle Man, one de­vel­ops a sus­pi­cion – just a sus­pi­cion, mind – that US cin­ema may fi­nally be de­vel­op­ing a grown-up at­ti­tude to ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

“I hope so,” Ford says. “I don’t think of this as a ‘gay film’. That is to say gay­ness is not the main theme. The main theme is loss and cop­ing with that loss. I am not one of those gay men who likes to be in a ghetto. I ama gay man who en­joys work­ing and go­ing amongst all types of peo­ple.”

Yet there have been mut­ter­ings that the We­in­stein Com­pany – yes, Bob and Har­vey snapped up the pic­ture fol­low­ing that Venice tri­umph – has been a lit­tle cagey about ac­knowl­edg­ing the pro­tag­o­nist’s sex­u­al­ity.

The early posters fea­tured an im­age of Moore and Firth in ap­par­ent im­mi­nent congress. When asked if he was wor­ried about the pro­mo­tion “de-gay­ing” A Sin­gle Man, Firth was ad­mirably forth­com­ing. “I don’t think they should do that be­cause there’s noth­ing to sani­tise,” he said. “It’s a beau­ti­ful story of love be­tween two men and I see no point in hid­ing that. Peo­ple should see it for what it is.” Ford ap­proaches the ques­tion cau­tiously. “I don’t know what Colin said ex­actly,” he says. “But we have dis­cussed it, of course. Okay, the first poster may have looked a lit­tle bit too like that for a ro­man­tic com­edy. But I fixed that. Look, to be fair, it’s Mar­ket­ing 101. You put your two big­gest stars on the poster, par­tic­u­larly when they give such good per­for­mances and they’re get­ting nom­i­nated for awards.”

Ford does, how­ever, ac­knowl­edge that cer­tain com­pro­mises did have to be made.

“You can’t release a trailer in the US with men kiss­ing un­less it plays with an R-rated movie. That’s ‘ex­treme sex­ual con­tent’ ap­par­ently. We could show that in Bri­tain and in France, but not Amer­ica.”

He gives a re­signed shrug. Af­ter a few min­utes with Ford, you are left in lit­tle doubt that this is no naive in­genue. A Sin­gle Man may be his first film, but, af­ter swim­ming in the shark-in­vested wa­ters of Fash­ion Bay, he has no il­lu­sions about how to sell his prod­uct and how to re­alise his vi­sion.

Tom Ford seems like a nice bloke, but he’s also pretty darn fright­en­ing. I’m glad I wore my nice socks.

Top: De­signer turned film-maker Tom Ford. Above: Os­car-nom­i­nated Colin Firth in Ford’s di­rec­to­rial de­but A Sin­gle Man

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