World Champion Tom Ford


By Terry Richardson

Tom Ford didn't intend to take his pants off, but the guy just can't help himself. 'When I saw how I looked in a dressing gown in the showers with the guys it didn't look right,' recalls the designer of the cover shoot he did for Out. 'It was like, Why would I be in the shower with those guys popping my towel in a dressing gown? so I just said, 'We have to reshoot this and I have to get in there with them, because otherwise it's not right.'' His lips purse into a small, compressed smile that suggests that it wouldn't be the first time in his career that a shot needed sexing up. For years sex and Tom Ford have been synonymous, a combination of his blistering good looks, his notorious ad campaigns (his latest shows his new fragrance nestling in a woman's shaved crotch), and the nonchalant ease with which he addresses it. 'Sex is just second nature with me,' he explains. 'It's not like an obsession or anything.'

Maybe not an obsession, but definitely a guiding principle. He recalls strolling along the beach in St. Barts stark naked early in his career and sailing right past Vogue editor Anna Wintour. 'I said, 'Hey Anna,' and then thought, Hmm, maybe I ought to start putting on my clothes. That was about the time his star was beginning to rise, and although he doesn't do nude beaches any more ('As I've gotten older I've realized a tan line makes your butt look higher') he clearly loves the human body, just not in a Diane Arbus kind of way. For Ford, the body is a canvas on which to project a fantasy: his. This can be disconcerting. You imagine that when he looks at you he is seeing not who you are, but who you could be, given the right nips and tucks. His story of meeting the artist Georgia O'Keeffe in Santa Fe, N.M., when he was 12 is instructive: 'I was like, What's wrong with her? She's wrinkly; she doesn't have any makeup on. Why doesn't she paint her fingernails?'

Years later, the man who made over the American woman -- painted fingernails, makeup, and all -- returned to the O'Keeffe estate after her death to see if he could buy a sculpture by Alexander Calder that she'd owned and that he'd seen in a book as a 10-year-old. 'Like everyone from my generation, when I made enough money to start buying art, I bought iconic things that meant something to me as a child,' he says. These days he's grown bolder, willing to take bets on artists of his generation, but then it's his generation that is now in the driving seat. At 46, Tom Ford is no longer using older, more established names'Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci -- to help make his own. Having opened a luxury menswear store on New York's Madison Avenue earlier this year, he plans a rapid expansion, with 14 more outlets around the world scheduled to begin opening in 2008. Does flying solo, after so many years as a copilot, give him sleepless nights? Of course, he says -- but not that many. 'I think sometimes I look so pulled together people think things are effortless for me, and they're not,' he says. 'I spend an enormous amount of energy and time thinking and worrying about all these things so they can appear effortless. It's a constant fight to stay on top or get back on top, and I like to win, and I like to be successful, which is why I like the boxing motif for this story. Every day you go to work is a fight, and you have to be ready for it.'