Text excerpted, with permission, from TOM FORD: The Repressed Biography by the Excellent Anonymous.
INTRODUCTION: The Silence of the Lambs
“He controlled everything, not just the design, not just the runway shows, but the stores, the advertising, the packaging, the bags that people carried out the doors, he was a complete control freak, and that’s what made the company successful.”–Patrick McCarthy
“Tom doesn’t want the book to happen.” Someone who was accustomed to, and who enjoyed the luxury of saying no uttered these words authoritatively, with a certain casual threat of impending finality. Lisa Schiek, the former worldwide director of communications at Gucci Group NV, was calling from her London office early one frosty morning last winter to inform me that Tom Ford—the about-to-depart creative director of Gucci and (more recently) Yves Saint Laurent—had declined my request to be interviewed for this book. When informed that the project would move forward with (preferably, hopefully) or without (regrettably, sadly) Tom’s corporation, Schiek’s reply was swift, cordially dismissive, yet matter of fact. “What if Tom calls the publisher?”
“Why?” I asked.
“To tell them not to publish the book,” Schiek said.
“What if Tom called me?” I countered, trying to avoid conflict and explaining that the book was meant to be inspirational to readers and would focus solely on Ford’s work history for Gucci. No hardcore personal details (Just the facts!), no Kitty Kelley-ish prying. Silence. Or was it a snicker? Then: “He’ll just tell all of his friends not to talk to you.” End of discussion. The Guru of Gucci, the King of Cool, the Lord of 1990s Luxe, had spoken, his wish and command delivered by one of his highly paid disciples.
And so it came to pass that mum was the word from a host of “Friends of Tom”: fashion industry professionals and power brokers contacted to comment on his stellar and illustrious career at Gucci. First to refuse was Cathy Hardwick, the woman who gave Ford his first break as a young would-be designer in 1986 (“What I saw was Heaven,” Hardwick said of Ford in 1995 when he received his first International Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. “He had such a fantastic presence, a beautiful face, and elegant hands. I hired him 10 minutes later!”). Tim Blanks, host of Fashion Television, when first contacted, enthusiastically agreed to be interviewed, offering both his office and personal cell phone numbers, but a few days later emailed to say that he was saving his thoughts and comments about Ford for his own Tom Ford project. Kal Ruttenstein, fashion director of Bloomingdale’s and Scott Tepper, fashion director of Henri Bendel didn’t return repeated calls. Kate Betts, a former editor of Harper’s Bazaar, now editor of Time, Inc’s Life and Style magazine offered her expertise as someone who had written extensively about Ford, but once she found out it wasn’t a Ford-sanctioned project changed her mind, as did many others.
Harold Koda, chief curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which in 2003 mounted the very well attended and profitable “Goddess” exhibition, sponsored in part by the Gucci Group, was unavailable when contacted. He was traveling in Europe, where he was surely to see Tom, from whom he would, possibly, seek permission to speak with me I was informed. “He and Tom are good friends and unless Tom aggress, he won’t be able to speak to you,” said a spokeswoman for the Costume Institute, which has a sizable collection of Tom Ford for Gucci pieces in its permanent collection. Dawn Mello, who was brought in to help revive Gucci back in 1990, and who is widely credited with hiring Ford (although later disposed of “Kremlin-style” by Gucci in 1994, according to a fashion journalist with knowledge of the situation) first checked with Ford and, after being warned, refused to speak.
Former assistants and design team colleagues of Ford also wouldn’t go on the record. Francisco Costa, the new head designer at Calvin Klein and formerly an assistant to Ford at Gucci demurred through a company publicist, though he was kind enough to wish me the best with the project. Photographers Mario Testino, Terry Richardson, and ad man Doug Lloyd, who conceived and worked on many of Gucci’s most iconic advertising campaigns followed suit. Andrea Gonzalex, alumni director of Santa Fe Prep, the New Mexico preparatory school attended by Thomas R. Ford (Class of ’79) refused to comment, after at first offering to supply me with a a copy of Santa Fe Prep Magazine to which Ford had recently granted an interview (‘It’s in the public domain,” she had originally said. “That shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll mail it to you.”). The offer was kindly rescinded after she phoned the Gucci offices in London. “I’ve spoken with Tom’s office and we cannot take part in any project that is not approved by him,” was her official statement before quickly hanging up the phone when I called to check on the estimated arrival date of the promised magazine. The list goes on. Hundreds of phone calls where made, as many faxes were sent, emails languished in the ether of the chicest computer networks in the top fashion capitals of the world.
It’s understandable, perhaps. It’s predictable, certainly. After all, with Ford’s career in flux and while tout le monde contemplates his next move, no one wants to offend him by saying anything good or bad (unless whispered sotto voce) about him. After all, there are photo ops to be had at the next fashion awards show, there are private dinners to attend in Paris, London, Los Angeles, New York, New Mexico or other locations where the jet-setting Tom Ford might find himself on any given day. There are front row invitations to the next Ford fashion show to covet and consider –all important matters to a true-blooded fashionista.
So, how to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? This book is a look at Tom Ford the way that he, perhaps, would, most likely, prefer it, a look at his career and work history through his eyes and the words and images that he has projected, through his collections and advertising campaigns for Gucci. This work has propelled him into the pop culture lexicon. It is a brief study of “Tom Ford for Gucci,” as the magazine credits mysteriously (yet purposely) began to read a few years ago. Now that all the post Gucci hubbub and the backstage, backbiting whispers about him have somewhat died down; now that the heartfelt and bitter tears over his departure from the Gucci Group have dried up, it is now time to examine the fashion legacy of Tom Ford. Not Tom Ford the man, but Tom Ford the icon. The following words will do just that.
TO BE CONTINUED…
To read part 2, please click HERE.