OUT100: Tom Ford, Artist of the Year

Out100: Tom Ford, Artist of the Year

Photography by Gavin Bond. Photographed at Milk Studios, Los Angeles, on August 26, 2016. All clothing and accessories by Tom Ford. 

Tom Ford is giving a grammar lesson. He and his husband, Richard Buckley, and their 4-year-old son, Jack, have just relocated to Los Angeles from London, and the designer and filmmaker is doing his best to preserve young Jack’s diction. “He’s losing his English accent very quickly, which I’m a little sad about,” he says in his sonorous voice. “He hasn’t started saying ‘awesome’ yet, which he absolutely cannot say.” Ford shakes his head in dismay and reiterates: “He cannot start saying ‘awesome.’ ” What other words or phrases are banned in the Ford-Buckley residence? “The worst for me is ‘my bad,’” says Ford. “It’s like a country of infants! You hear adults saying things like that — I’m shocked.” 

There’s always been a touch of Miss Porter’s Finishing School for Young Ladies about Ford, the most unerringly polite and gracious of subjects I’ve ever interviewed. He describes himself as “an obsessive-compulsive Virgo,” and a certain order and rigor has attended everything he’s ever done, even when he was a raging drunk. “I sound like an old man a lot of times because I am old-fashioned and formal in many ways,” he says. “If Jack would meet you, he would put out his hand and say, ‘Hello, Mr. Hicklin,’ and he’d look you in the eye.”

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For a man of such sangfroid, it must have been extra painful to watch Donald Trump during the debates. Ford winces and momentarily loses his studied composure, thumping the table with one hand in time to his words: “What. If. He. Wins!?” He likes Trevor Noah’s “Cinnamon Hitler” sobriquet for the Republican nominee and believes Trump’s populist demagoguery has been nurtured by America’s failing education system. “Unfortunately, a lot of people are not educated enough to realize that he actually doesn’t have a plan, cannot even make a sentence, and that’s where we have failed as a country — through education.”

The divide between the educated and the uneducated, and between the haves and the have-nots, is among the animating threads that help make Ford’s new movie, the philosophical thriller Nocturnal Animals, such a satisfying spectacle. Based on a 1993 novel, Tony & Susan, by Austin Wright, the movie follows two interrelated narratives — one about love, regret, and stagnation, and the other a gripping tale of murder and revenge. Amy Adams, who stars as the movie’s emotional center, is so taut that you feel she might shatter at any moment. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, as a Texan redneck, is astonishingly feral and febrile in equal measure.

Of course it helps that everything is beautifully choreographed, that the sets are exquisite, and that the acting is wonderfully controlled. Ford’s debut movie, A Single Man, had many of the same qualities, pointing to a cinematic sensibility that we can expect Ford’s future movies — he has a comedy in mind for his next project — to build on and hone. 

“I like old-fashioned movies where people are more beautiful than they are in real life,” says Ford. “People keep comparing [my movies] to Douglas Sirk, and it was certainly never an intention — I find Sirk’s movies a little camp and melodramatic. However, I love them, and I know them all by heart, and I suppose I can be a little melodramatic. I like stories that are a little overblown like that, and I do like a lot of lacquer and polish on things.”

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That Ford made Nocturnal Animals while continuing to oversee his eponymous luxury fashion label is partly what makes him so inspiring. At 55, he is proof that you can relaunch yourself in a new field — and succeed. “I’ve never understood why anyone would want to do something and not strive to be the best,” he said in a 2008 interview for Out — an attitude that has limned his career. Nocturnal Animals is a complex movie for a sophomore director, and the fact that Ford also wrote and produced it is a testament to his driving ambition. He has the means to fund his own projects, which is key for someone who needs to be in complete control. “That’s what money is about,” he says. “Money is freedom — freedom to quit your job, freedom to say, ‘I’m going to do this.’ Most people don’t have that freedom because they don’t have the money to say, ‘You know what? No.’ It gives me the ability to do what other people can’t do.”

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For all his achievements, the thing he is proudest of is something people around the world can relate to: being a parent. “I always wanted kids,” he says. “But I really had a bad drinking problem. I couldn’t have had Jack in that state — I’d have dropped him down the stairs and accidentally burned him with a cigarette.” He compares parenthood to jumping off a cliff but says there’s only one thing he has truly had to sacrifice. “You give up the right to kill yourself,” he says, poker-faced. “And I kind of liked that, because it’s the ultimate out.” He is being impish, but only a little. Then he winces. “Also, I hurt my back,” he complains. “Jack’s heavy now. You realize why most people have their kids when they’re in their 20s or 30s.”  

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