The first fashion muse that Tom Ford ever encountered was his grandmother, a stylish dame who helped to raise him on her ranch during the bulk of his childhood in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As a high school student, he found other influences that were pros in the industry like Calvin Klein, whose style he emulated at Santa Fe Preparatory School through his daily clothing choices. Following his graduation, Ford moved to the Big Apple and enrolled at New York University to pursue a degree in art history. He dropped out in 1980 after a surprise friendship with Andy Warhol and regular trips to Studio 54 proved to be more fun than academics.
Tom Ford next enjoyed a living stint in Los Angeles, where he pursued work in TV commercials and came to appreciate the creative process of filming them. After acting in numerous national commercial spots, Ford’s mind was bursting with creativity. He came back to New York and pursued architectural studies at the Parsons School of Design. As part of the deal, he got a trip to Paris and some intern work with the world famous fashion label, Chloe. This internship initiated a strong bond between Ford and the fashion world that would never dissipate. Existing school policies made it difficult for him to switch degrees, so he completed his architectural studies in 1986 while plotting a strategy to enter the fashion world later on.
TOM FORD MEETS CATHY HARDWICK AND JOINS GUCCI
Despite his lack of practical design experience, Tom Ford was determined to join the industry that he had come to love. After a few unsuccessful attempts to find work, he convinced designer Cathy Hardwick to interview him after calling her for days on end. At the interview, he responded to a query about his favorite designers by mentioning Chanel and Armani, which not-so-coincidentally happened to be part of Cathy Hardwick’s personal attire that day. Ford was hired on for two years before switching over to Perry Ellis until 1990.
Feeling at odds with American fashion trends, Tom Ford left for Europe where he was signed by Gucci to turn around the struggling fashion house. The idea was to renovate the company by having Ford design a brand new ready-to-wear line for women. Though he was initially unproved in this capacity, Ford brought a combination of sexiness, glamour and class to this line and several others — leading to famous clients, a slew of regular consumers, and a promotion for Ford to creative director in 1994. It was a position he would hold until 2004, when he left due to creative differences.
Having started with Gucci when the company was close to fading out, Tom Ford’s contributions to the company increased revenues — such that Gucci carried a $10 billion value upon his exit. Through his work with Gucci and Yves St. Laurent, which Gucci controlled during part of Ford’s tenure, he won a number of international fashion awards including British GQ International Man of the Year (2000), Womenswear Designer of the Year from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (2001), and Best Fashion Designer from Time (2001).
TOM FORD CREATES THE TOM FORD BRAND AND DIRECTS A SINGLE MAN
In the aftermath of his departure from Gucci, Tom Ford started his own brand in 2005. Early success came from optical eyewear and beauty products that were done in collaboration with Estee Lauder and the Marcolin Group. Two years after the birth of the Tom Ford brand, his new collection of meanswear and men’s accessories were introduced, as was the first Tom Ford store in New York City. Modeled in part after the designer’s own house in England, additional stores opened in North America and abroad. Ford’s industry accolades continued, as he was named Menswear Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2008.
In a quest to develop his long-time interest in filmmaking, Tom Ford also created his own production company, Fade to Black. His first film project was A Single Man, an adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s book that the fashion designer directed himself. For the film, he cast Colin Firth, Julianne Moore and Matthew Goode — with Colin Firth later receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Though Tom Ford didn’t receive an Oscar nom for his efforts, he did earn two Independent Spirit Award nominations for Best First Screenplay and Best First Feature.