Tom Ford is a fashion designer and film director who was the Creative Director of Gucci from 1994-2004. He founded his own Tom Ford fashion label in 2004.
Who Is Tom Ford?
While studying architecture at the Paris campus of the Parsons School of Design, Tom Ford decided to switch to fashion. He became Womenswear Designer for Gucci in 1990 and Creative Director in 1994. Under Ford’s direction, Gucci’s annual sales grew to $3 billion. Since resigning from Gucci in 2005, Ford has launched his own fashion brand and he also directed several movies.
Fashion designer Thomas Carlyle Ford was born on August 27, 1961, in Austin, Texas. His parents, Tom Ford, Sr. and Shirley Bunton, both worked as real estate agents, and Ford spent much of his childhood at his grandparents’ ranch in the dusty town of Brownwood, Texas. His favorite childhood pastimes included lying out by his grandparents’ pool and visiting Ralph the Swimming Pig — a popular tourist attraction in nearby Aquarena Springs. Ford also took an early interest in art and painting. “I was always very visual, always interested in design,” he recalls. “I don’t mean that I sat around at age 5 sketching clothes. But if my parents went out to dinner and left me alone, I would rearrange all the living room furniture before they came back home.” Ford says that his parents “encouraged me to do anything. If I wanted art lessons, they found paint and a teacher.”
Ford had two early role models in fashion: his mother and grandmother. “My mother was very chic, very classic,” he recalls. “My paternal grandmother was very stylish in a very Texas way—everything big and flashy, from jewelry to car.” Ford would later combine those two styles as he reinvented Gucci’s image in the mid-1990s. “The images of beauty you get in your childhood stick with you for life,” Ford later explained. “So there’s a certain flashiness at Gucci—Texas-inspired—with a certain Western feel.”
Ford’s family moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Ford attended high school at the prestigious Santa Fe Preparatory School. He graduated at age 17, and then enrolled at New York University in 1979 as an art history major. While at NYU, Ford became a regular at the infamous Studio 54 nightclub, and his studies suffered. In 1980, after just one year at NYU, Ford dropped out and moved to Los Angeles, where he made a living acting in television commercials. A few years later, he moved back to New York and enrolled in the Parsons School of Design, studying architecture. Ford then transferred to Parsons’ Paris campus, and it was while completing his final year of architecture study there that he suddenly decided to switch to fashion. He recalls, “I just woke up one morning and thought, ‘What am I doing?’ Architecture was just way too … serious. I mean, every architectural project I ever did, I worked a dress into it somehow. So I realized that fashion was the right balance between art and commerce, and that was it.”
In 1985, after graduating from Parsons, Ford sought to land a job with prominent sportswear designer Cathy Hardwick. Ford called Hardwick’s office every day for a month straight. Hoping to finally get rid of this annoying caller, Hardwick herself finally answered the phone and asked Ford how soon he could take a meeting. Just under two minutes later, Ford arrived in her office. (He had been calling from the lobby.) Hardwick recalls their memorable first meeting: “I had every intention of giving him no hope. I asked him who his favorite European designers were. He said, ‘Armani and Chanel.’ Months later I asked him why he said that, and he said, ‘Because you were wearing something Armani.'”
Hardwick offered Ford a job, and after two years as Hardwick’s design assistant, Ford landed a job designing jeans for Perry Ellis on New York’s Seventh Avenue. Then in 1990, Ford moved to Milan to assume the role of Womenswear Designer for Gucci. At the time, the exalted leather company was hampered by management infighting and a struggle to keep up with market trends. Ford instantly breathed new life into Gucci. He ascended quickly through the company’s ranks, rising to Design Director in 1992 and to Creative Director in 1994.
Ford completely revamped Gucci’s image — replacing the minimalism of the early 1990s with updated retro looks that oozed sex appeal. He expanded the company into a host of new ventures, including men’s and women’s sportswear, eveningwear and home furnishings. Under Ford’s leadership, Gucci acquired the venerable French brand Yves Saint Laurent, fueling remarkable growth in the company’s sales. Over the course of the decade, Ford served as Gucci’s driving force (1994-2004), and the company’s annual sales increased from $230 million to $3 billion.
After French multinational Pinault Printemps Redoute bought Gucci in 2004, Ford resigned from the company. In 2005, he founded his own fashion company, Tom Ford Brand, which offers menswear, eyewear and beauty products. Ford created significant buzz for his new company when he posed on the cover of a 2006 issue of Vanity Fair wearing Tom Ford Brand menswear, sandwiched between Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson, both of whom posed nude.
Films and Personal Life
In 2009, Ford made a foray into the film industry with his debut film, A Single Man, starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. Ford co-wrote and directed the film, based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood. A Single Man won wide critical acclaim, garnering Firth an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and Ford an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best First Screenplay.
In 2016 Ford wrote, co-produced, and directed Nocturnal Animals, a psychological thriller based on a 1993 novel by Austin Wright. The film stars Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal and garnered Ford a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director.
One of the most decorated designers of his generation, Ford has won numerous fashion awards for his work with Gucci and his own Tom Ford Brand. He has won five Council of Fashion Designers of America awards, four VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards and was named 2001’s GQ designer of the year.
Although he is quite settled through his marriage to fashion journalist Richard Buckley, has a son Jack and is perched atop a self-branded fashion empire, Ford continues to express his brand through youthful, sexually provocative campaigns. And he says he is untroubled by the seeming incongruity between his personal life and his public image. “I guess I’m hyper-self-conscious about people thinking that I’m egotistical,” he says, “but there’s a difference between being egotistical and knowing your value as a product and an actor. I know my value as a product, and I’ve divorced myself as a human from myself as a product.”