He’s been called a gay icon, a fashion icon, a style icon.
Tom Ford could be all those things as well as a visionary filmmaker. His first film A Single Man was nominated for an Academy Award (for Colin Firth’s leading role) and his second flick, Nocturnal Animals was a strong contender for the Golden Lion at the recent Venice Film Festival.
At his press conference in Beverly Hills for Nocturnal Animals recently, the 55-year-old visionary was surprisingly animated, as energised as a school boy, and loving every minute of the interview process.
Seven years ago you told us fashion doesn’t satisfy your creative urges but movie making does. So why the long wait for your second feature?
I don’t know where the seven years went! I never intended for it to be seven years, I really intended it to be three years.
But then I got caught up in my other business which kind of took over. I opened 100 stores, and I had a son who is now four, and that was a very deliberate decision when I had him, to step away from my other business for a while to be with him, and I still want to be there throughout his life.
But it was also finding the right material, finding something that really spoke to me, and something that I needed to say.
How has having a child changed your life?
I think everyone who has a child will understand that. Before his birth, the world began and ended with my birth and death.
But now, I hear myself saying things to him that I heard my father said to me. And I realise that, oh, his father said that to him, and when Jack grows up, he is going to say that (to his child). So you see yourself as a link in the evolution of humans.
What made you want to direct films?
It was something I really wanted to do for a very long time. Fashion was not necessarily a stepping stone, but about 20 years ago I realised that fashion was not fulfilling everything I felt I had to say.
Fashion is fine, but what you create is so fleeting. It lasts no time at all. Film is forever.
So, they satisfy two very different forms of expression. And truthfully I’ve always been interested in film.
And once I decided I wanted to make movies, you start filing things away in your head. You watch films in a completely different way.
Growing up, I was always into film, from Fritz Lang to Wong Kar Wai. For me life is just a series of films; it’s an alternate universe.
Looking back, what would you say was the highlight of your career?
I was very successful very young, and being very successful very young means I also had a midlife crisis very young.
I had spent so much time developing the material side of my life that I had really neglected the spiritual side.
Making A Single Man was cathartic for me and it helped me come to terms with a more spiritual side and understanding life and having a balance. So that was a highlight.
Has film making influenced you as a fashion designer?
They’re very, very separate things. Fashion for me is a commercial endeavour. It isn’t art. As a fashion designer I have never considered myself an artist.
Making a film is the first and most pure expression I’ve ever created and the thing I’m most proud of in my life.
They occupy two very different spheres of my life with no overlap.
But having said that, I’d have to say the process is similar. By that I mean, you have to have a vision; even in fashion if we are designing a collection or building a brand, you have to have a vision.
You have to ask yourself, “What does it mean? Why are you doing this and why does someone need it?” Same thing with film. “What am I trying to say? Who do I want to speak to? What am I trying to communicate?”
After that you hire very talented people and you give them the space to perform, but at the same time – actors might not like hearing this – you are steering and guiding them towards what you want.
So, the process is similar although on the set, you have to be more of a psychologist and keep everyone motivated.
How old were you when you realised you were good-looking?
When I was a kid, I was the typical somewhat effeminate kid who did not have a lot of friends, but at about 13, 14, I started having more friends, and girls started to become interested in me, and I started to understand that I was perceived as attractive.
But I’ve never been someone who looked in the mirror and thought, “Wow, I’m really beautiful.”
As I became older, I realised it’s a tool we use in our culture. So, as a designer, I can look at pictures of myself in a very abstract, very objective way.
If I’m told my neck’s starting to sag, or my haircut is too short, or my forehead’s shiny, I realise it’s our culture, it’s something I’m aware of, but I don’t think about it.
What do you wear when you relax, or you don’t wear anything?
Well, now that I have a son and I also have a nanny, I can’t walk naked in my kitchen to make myself a bowl of cereal. So now, it’s either a dressing gown or at least boxer shorts and a T-shirt.
But the older you get, you learn: Never wear anything because people say you should wear it.
Find what you feel good in and look good in and feel right in, and just wear different versions of that.
What do fortune and fame mean to you?
That’s easy. Fortune buys you freedom. That to me is the most important thing. More than material things, it buys you the freedom, and in my case the freedom to make movies. Most people don’t have that kind of freedom, so I am very appreciative of it.
Fame can usually get you a nice table at a restaurant, but the bad thing about fame, especially now that I am with a child, I can’t go out with him because I don’t want him photographed
But that’s the price I guess you have to pay. I can’t walk down Bond Street, and I can’t walk down 5th Avenue, and I can’t walk down Rodeo Drive.
But there are other places, I can go. I can go to Wal-Mart in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and no one knows who I am. I like to go to a supermarket in the middle of the night, it’s fun to just push the cart and look and see what’s there.
Do you foresee a time when you might forsake fashion and only make movies?
Fashion supplies me with the means to have that freedom. I enjoy fashion, and it doesn’t take up much of my time.
If I were only making movies, it’s a long time between movies, and my mind moves quickly, so I don’t see a future where I would give it up completely.