Thomas Carlyle “Tom” Ford (born August 27, 1961) is an American fashion designer and film director. He gained international fame for his turnaround of the Gucci fashion house and the creation of the Tom Ford label before directing the Oscar-nominated film A Single Man.
Tom Ford was born August 27, 1961 in Austin, Texas, to realtors Tom Ford and Shirley Burton. He spent his early life in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, and in San Marcos, outside Austin; his family moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, when he was 11. In Santa Fe, he entered St. Michael’s High School and later moved to Santa Fe Preparatory School, from which he graduated in 1979. Ford left Santa Fe at age 16, when he enrolled at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, but quickly dropped out. He then moved to New York City to study art history at New York University.
Ford dropped out of NYU after only a year, preferring to concentrate on acting in television commercials; at one time, he was in 12 national advertising campaigns simultaneously. Ford then began studying interior architecture at The New School’s famous art and design college, Parsons The New School for Design. During his time in New York, Ford became a fixture at the legendary nightclub Studio 54, where he realized he was gay. The club’s disco-era glamor would be a major influence on his later designs. Before his last year at New School, Ford spent a year and a half in Paris, where he worked as an intern in Chloé’s press office. Though his work primarily involved sending clothes out on photo shoots, it triggered his love of fashion. He spent his final year at The New School studying fashion, but nonetheless graduated with a degree in architecture.
When interviewing for jobs after graduation, he said that he had attended The New School’s Parsons division, but concealed that he graduated in architecture and that his work at Chloe was a low-level public relations position. Despite his lack of experience, Ford called American designer Cathy Hardwick every day for a month in hopes of securing a job at her mid-price sportswear company. Eventually, she agreed to see him. Hardwick later recalled the incident: “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’. Is it any wonder he got the job?” Ford worked as a design assistant for Hardwick for two years.
In 1988, Ford moved to Perry Ellis, where he knew both Robert McDonald, the company’s president, and Marc Jacobs, its designer, socially. He stayed at the company for two years, but grew tired of working in American fashion. In a later interview with the New York Times, he commented, “If I was ever going to become a good designer, I had to leave America. My own culture was inhibiting me. Too much style in America is tacky. It’s looked down upon to be too stylish. Europeans, however, appreciate style.” Ford would soon have the opportunity to enter the world of European fashion: Gucci, a faltering luxury goods company, was seeking to strengthen its women’s ready-to-wear presence as a part of its brand overhaul. At the time, “no one would dream of wearing Gucci,” said Dawn Mello, then the company’s creative director. Mello hired Ford—then a near-unknown—as the brand’s chief women’s ready-to-wear designer in 1990. “I was talking to a lot of people, and most didn’t want the job,” Mello said. “For an American designer to move to Italy to join a company that was far from being a brand would have been pretty risky.” Ford and his longtime partner, fashion journalist Richard Buckley, relocated to Milan that September.
Ford’s role at Gucci rapidly expanded: he was designing menswear within six months, and shoes soon after that. When Richard Lambertson left as design director in 1992, Ford took over his position, heading the brand’s ready-to-wear, fragrances, image, advertising, and store design. In 1993, when he was in charge of designing eleven product lines, Ford worked eighteen-hour days. During these years, there were creative tensions between Ford and Maurizio Gucci, the company’s chairman and 50% owner. According to Mello, “Maurizio always wanted everything to be round and brown, and Tom wanted to make it square and black.” Though Maurizio Gucci wanted to fire Ford, Domenico de Sole insisted that he remain. Nonetheless, Ford’s work during the early 1990s was primarily behind the scenes; his contributions to Gucci were overshadowed by those of Mello, who was the company’s public face.
In 1994, Ford was promoted to creative director. In his first year at the helm, he was credited with putting the glamour back into fashion introducing Halston-style velvet hipsters, skinny satin shirts and car-finish metallic patent boots. In 1995, he brought in French stylist Carine Roitfeld and photographer Mario Testino to create a series of new, modern ad campaigns for the company. Between 1995 and 1996, sales at Gucci increased by 90%. On the strength of Ford’s collections, Gucci went public in October 1995 with an IPO of $22 per share, followed by an additional global offering in March 1996 at $48 per share and a third offering in 1999 at $75 per share. In early 1999, luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, headed by Bernard Arnault, increased its shareholdings in Gucci with a view to takeover. Domenico De Sole reacted by issuing new shares of stock in an effort to dilute the value of Arnault’s holdings. Ford and De Sole also approached French holding company Pinault-Printemps-Redoute (PPR) about the possibility of forming a strategic alliance. Francois Pinault, the company’s founder, agreed to the idea and purchased 37 million shares in the company, or a 40% stake. Arnault’s share was diluted to 20%. At one point, Ford was the largest individual shareholder of Gucci stock and options.
By 1999, the house, which had been almost bankrupt when Ford joined, was valued at about $4.3 billion. When Ford left in 2004, Gucci Group was valued at $10 billion.
When Gucci acquired the house of Yves Saint Laurent (YSL), Ford was named the creative director of that label as well. During his time as Creative Director for YSL, Ford won numerous Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards. Like his work at Gucci, Ford was able to catapult the classic fashion house back into the mainstream. His advertising campaigns for the YSL fragrances Opium (with a red-haired Sophie Dahl completely naked wearing only a necklace and stiletto heels in a sexually suggestive pose) and YSL M7 (with martial arts champion Samuel de Cubber in complete full-frontal nudity) have been famous and provocative by pushing fragrance ads to a new level of creativity in artistic expression and commercial impact.
In April 2004, Ford parted ways with the Gucci group after he and CEO Domenico de Sole, who is credited as Ford’s partner in Gucci’s success, failed to agree with PPR bosses over artistic control of the Group.
n April 2005, Ford announced the creation of the TOM FORD brand. Ford was joined in this venture by former Gucci Group President and CEO Domenico De Sole who serves as Chairman of the company. In that same year, Ford announced his partnership with Marcolin Group to produce and distribute optical frames and sunglasses as well as an alliance with Esteé Lauder to create the TOM FORD Beauty brand.
In April 2007, his first directly-owned flagship store opened in New York at 845 Madison Avenue and coincided with the debut of the TOM FORD menswear and accessory collections. Presently, there are 21 freestanding stores and shop-in-shops in locations.
In March 2011, Ford featured as the cover star of bi-annual publication AnOther Man, the fraternal counterpart to Another Magazine, giving his opinion on what makes the modern-day gentleman. He was interviewed by the magazine’s founder Jefferson Hack for the featured article.