World Champion Tom Ford
By Terry Richardson
Living in the present also happens to be at the core of his business strategy. A pragmatic man, Ford is in menswear because it's less fickle, more reliable, than women's fashion. 'I didn't want to do it the same way again,' he says. 'I've done 16 collections a year and eight runway shows a year, where you constantly have to reinvent the wheel: the new shoe, the new bag, the new thing, and it's so disposable. This is a different business, it's a slower business, it's less about fashion and more about quality, so I can have silver hair and still be doing what I'm doing and have it all make sense.' Although he doesn't rule out introducing women's wear, it would have to be strictly on his terms. 'I do think someone needs to reinvent the way that women's fashion works, whether I choose to do that in two or three years or not. I'm just afraid that once I stick my toe in that pond I'll be sucked up and the next 30 years will whiz by and I'll just have a bunch of dresses hanging in a museum, and I won't have had time to have really lived.'
Who is likely to shop at the Tom Ford store, where a money clip might set you back a few thou and a top hat sits in a display case without apparent irony? When I walked around the store's elegant dressing rooms I couldn't help thinking of Tyler Br'l', the jet-setting founder of Wallpaper magazine and Monocle, who is forever searching for the perfect this, the ultimate that, and who might well want a shirt in all 340 colors the store offers. (Who knew there were so many?). Ford describes the typical buyer as a man much like himself, although one suspects his eye is really on the booming Asian market. 'I was in Beijing and Hong Kong and Shanghai in April looking at store locations, and I wish every American could go and stand on the banks of the Yangtze River in Shanghai and look across at the skyline, which is something from a science fiction movie. You feel so humble: Whoa, this is where it's happening; this is the future. You get a completely different perspective of America there than we do here.'
Although he got into trouble at the time of the Iraq invasion for telling an Italian newspaper he was embarrassed to be American, Ford doesn't disguise his despair over the Bush administration. A donor to Barack Obama's campaign, he says he'll probably vote for Hillary Clinton when it comes down to it. 'In order to get things done in our system, whether we like it or not, you need to know how to operate in the system, and I think she's quite an expert at that, and I think her heart is in the right place, I think her values are the right ones, and the more I've watched and thought, for me, I think it's Hillary.'
Wary of identity politics -- 'I don't feel defined or restricted by my sexuality' -- he is nevertheless scathing about the political debate over same-sex marriage. He and Buckley even toyed with the idea of applying for British citizenship so they could register for a civil union there. 'I love being an American, but it's sick that if I died tomorrow, 50% of my property would go to the government and the leftovers would go to Richard, whereas if we were a heterosexual couple, that wouldn't happen.'
Ford doesn't take himself seriously enough to expect anyone else to, but his transgressive ad campaigns have a clear political subtext: We need to get over our sexual hang-ups. Like other designers of his generation, he extols the '70s as a time of sexual license and liberation. 'I remember when it was in vogue to have gay friends or to be at Studio 54 while two guys were fucking -- fucking -- right there in front of you, and there's princess so-and-so smoking a cigarette and having a cocktail, and it was all, like, 'I'm cool, I'm liberal, that's OK, that's great.'' He shrugs off critics who claim he objectifies women by pointing out that he's an equal opportunity objectifier; he'd be the first to run more penises in his ads if he could get away with it. Certainly, the ease with which he interacted with the models for Out's boxing-inspired shoot reflected a man who was supremely comfortable around other men's bodies. 'I complimented their cocks in the shower,' he recalls. 'I told one guy, 'Your cock is really good; mine is usually bigger than this,' and he said, 'Oh, it's just the water -- go stand under the shower.''
This seems so breathtakingly audacious -- imagine it tripping off the tongue of any other designer -- that you wait a split second for the punch line or the wink that says 'just kidding,' only to realize that Tom Ford, human and product both, is at once completely serious and utterly blas'. 'If you behave that way and you respect people, I think they get it,' he says. 'They sense from me that I'm not going to give one of them a blow job.' He shrugs. 'I just don't do that.'