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Tom Ford's Moist Lip

Tom Ford Moist Lips

In an excerpt from his book The Asylum, Simon Doonan shares one of his favorite moments working for the iconoclastic designer.

Photo of Tom Ford | Credit: Getty Images

There are many reasons why I love Tom Ford.

He cuts a great suit. Having worked on Savile Row, I am a sucker for a bit of nifty tailoring.

His Tobacco Vanille perfume is intoxicating and makes me wish I smoked cigarettes again. Or maybe even a pipe.

I also love Tom Ford because Tom Ford loves a moist lip. I love a moist lip too. Who doesn't?

Once upon a time I was planning a party for the launch of Mr. Ford's huge photographic retrospective monograph. In order to add a little sizzle to the occasion, I suggested to Tom's PR guru, that we commission sugar cookies bearing an image of Tom's face and the words eat me knocked out in blocky white lettering, a la Ed Ruscha. These scrumptious goodies would be served to arriving guests along with a glass of champagne. We could also, budget permitting, stitch up a bunch of cushions bearing his image and the words sit on me. "I'm sure Richard Avedon won't mind us taking his iconic portrait of Tom and using it to create TF souvenirs," I trilled, optimistically.

The official response was polite but adamant: instead of cookies and cushions, Tom would prefer us to focus our attention on the male servers. Tom would like to see handsome model-slash-waiters holding drink trays. I received a follow-up memo with styling specifics: the lads should have "a moist lip, dewy cheek and a light tan, as if they had just spent a couple of hours lolling by the pool that very morning."

I was uneasy. While my eat me idea was, admittedly, a little too goofy for the sophisticated Ford brand, Tom's alternative was rather nuanced. The entire concept was a minefield of subjectivity. One person's moist lip was another person's slobbery bouche. How moist was too moist? When was moist not moist enough? Was it better to be too moist than too dry? Regarding the cheek: What was the difference between dewy and plain old greasy?

"Return to your station, redew your cheeks and reapply your lip gloss, you lightly tanned, naughty, dry-lipped waiter," I could almost hear myself saying.

For reasons too complicated to enumerate, but most of which were budget related, I was unable to hire a phalanx of square-jawed Adonises for Tom's book launch. We were obliged instead to rely on the waiters from our own Barneys restaurant, none of whom had, as far as we could see, either a moist lip or dewy cheek, and most of whom were female. After scouring the kitchen, my team hit pay dirt: a nice-looking bloke with a light tan.

"You'll do!" we shrieked, and dragged the hapless victim off to the makeup department, where, much to his horror, we glossed his lip and dusted his cheek. We then shoved a drink tray in his hand.

Tom arrived. He glanced at our lone, lightly tanned dude in his ill-fitting white shirt and his seen-better-days schlumpy black pants, and he winced. He then sat down and began signing books for the around-the-block line of fans that had come to worship their idol.

Eventually, Tom habituated to the presence of his undewy, unmoist accomplice. They exchanged polite banter. Mr. Ford is a smart guy. He realized that I had done him a huge service. Why risk comparison with somebody younger, moister and dewier? How much better to have a blokey regular guy. How much better to have a flattering adjacency!

Sales recap: We sold about $50,000 worth of books, including tons of the $350 deluxe white leather-bound version.

Lipgate was, as it turned out, a good warm-up for my next encounter with Mr. Ford. Let us now move on from Tom's preoccupation with square jaws and moist lips, and head south to the world of grody feet.

All of us think we have gorgeous feet, especially when we are young. I always thought mine were quite noteworthy: I see them as sturdy little Celtic hooves, perfectly in proportion with my gnomelike physique. My high insteps recall, at least to my eyes, those famous images of Rudolf Nureyev's appendages. (Avedon, again!)

Suddenly, a few winters ago, that all changed. I was skipping along the beach in Florida when I suddenly noticed that my right big toenail looked radically different. It bore a blotch the color of scrambled egg. So perturbed was I by this development that I skipped to an abrupt halt. This is unusual. I am an enthusiastic skipper. Once I get going, I tend to keep right on skipping.

The following week, I skipped over to see my doctor, who diagnosed toe fungus and prescribed ciclopirox, a slow-acting but noninvasive antifungal nail lacquer. Determined to restore the rogue toenail to its former glory in time for my summer vacation, I applied the unguent with great diligence.

Despite my best efforts, the scrambled egg persisted. When it became apparent that the stubborn malady would be accompanying me and my Jonny on our trip to Capri, I zipped out and bought a pair of those hippie flip-flop-style Birkenstocks. Not very glamorous, but here's the deal: The toe-thong leather flap exactly covered the offending spot of fungus.

Ciao Italia!

Despite the toenail fungus, Jonny and I are having a luscious time. Capri is a great place for skipping. Thanks to my Birkenstocks, my affliction goes unnoticed by the international glitterati. Until...

Out of the blue, we receive an unexpected invitation to dine with the velvet mafia aboard an extremely long yacht. Whose yacht? I refuse to name names. As you can tell, I am a very sensitive, private person who would never divulge the details of his personal life.

The truth is I don't want to annoy the velvet mafia by blabbing too much. If they became annoyed, they might break my kneecaps, and then I could no longer skip. However, I will tell you this: To skip from one end of this particular boat to the other would take at least twenty minutes.

If there is one thing I know about the velvet mafia, they all get regular pedicures. So I prepped for the occasion by Ped Egging my tootsies, sloshing on an extra layer of ciclopirox and donning my Birkenstocks.

But my cunning preparations were all in vain. When we arrived at said boat, we were--horror of horrors--immediately told to remove our shoes!

Cocktails on the poop deck!simon doonan the asylum paperback

"What the hell is wrong with you," hissed my Jonny a few minutes later. "You look like Ratso Rizzo." I looked at my reflection in an adjacent lacquered wall. (Yes, the velvet mafia lacquers the walls of their pleasure boats, that's how velvety it gets.) One leg was pretzeled awkwardly around the other, my left foot mashing onto my right foot in an unsuccessful effort to conceal the grotesque digit.

And suddenly--Ciao! Dolce vita! Arrivederci, Roma!--there's Tom.

Tom Ford, fresh from the triumphant opening of his severely chic new store in Milan, is lounging on a mound of cushions and he's talking eyebrows. Eyebrows! Eyebrows! Eyebrows!

He takes no interest in my afflicted toe. He only has eyes for my eyebrows, and everybody's eyebrows. Eyebrows, it quickly becomes apparent, are his new canvas. He has moved on from the moist lip and is now devoting himself to a tenacious pursuit of the perfect tweeze.

The handsomely browed Mr. Ford is, as it turns out, a font of tips and information about the improvement and shaping of brows. He vehemently cautions my Jonny, a gritty potter who has never even thought much about his eyebrows, against sloppy dye jobs and overtweezing.

Suddenly, and without warning, Tom ditches the eyebrow seminar. He grabs me and begins to physically deconstruct my outfit. I permit him to restyle me. First, he's Tom Ford, so why not? Second, if he's focusing on my outfit, at least he won't be looking at my toenail.

Tom is of the opinion that I look much too uptight and "tucked in." I am sure he is right. I have never been good at doing the rumpled sauvage look. I was born mod. I came of age in a mod world. I will die mod, and we mods don't do degage. We do neat. In addition to which I think the rumpled look only works if you are tall and tanned, and have a moist lip and a dewy six-pack. On a short, dry-lipped person such as myself, messy looks tradge.

Despite my protestations, Tom is determined to crease up my shirt and pull it out of my pants, and maybe even tie the two front shirttails into a sassy knot. This is not easily accomplished since I have painstakingly tucked my shirttails neatly inside my underpants. Okay, I know that's a seriously naff thing to do, but that's just how I am. I need to know that my shirt will remain in place no matter how much skipping I do.

So Tom is yanking my shirt--hard, very hard. Somehow he also has hold of the waistband of my underpants. Elastic is straining. Buttons are flying. Beads of sweat are accumulating.

"Tom! Leave him alone!" yells Tom's lovely boyfriend, Richard Buckley, adding, somewhat disconcertingly, "Maybe he likes the way he looks!"

But Tom keeps on sauvaging me. The more he yanks, the more my underpants ride up.

Suddenly, I realize the full horror of my situation: Tom Ford is giving me a wedgy in front of the entire velvet mafia. It's only a matter of time before one of them notices my toe. 'Ere long I shall be walking the velvet plank.

Valentino, swathed in linen and pastel cashmere and clearly enjoying his well-deserved retirement with unapologetic Italian elan, clocks my fungalicious tootsie and freezes.

He shudders. He closes his eyes and clutches imaginary pearls.

I am totally busted. All eyes are on my hideous toe. Including Tom's.

Val then turns his gaze across the Med toward the hilltop ruins of the villa where the Emperor Tiberius--perverted, herpes-encrusted and hideous--lived out his final sordid years.

Val's gesture was a salutary reminder to all of us that there is always someone more grody, more leprous than oneself.

Reprinted from THE ASYLUM by Simon Doonan with permission of Blue Rider Press, a division of Penguin Random House. Copyright (c) 2013 by Simon Doonan

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