The man who revived the fortunes of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, who founded a highly successful eponymous fashion brand, who directed and produced two films, and who has dabbled in fashion photography – Tom Ford is a man driven by his creative force.
Thomas Carlyle Ford was born in 1961, in Austin, Texas. His parents were both real estate agents. Besides school, the young Tom spent much of his childhood at his paternal grandparents’ ranch in dusty, rural Texas. In those formative years, Tom has identified his mother and paternal grandmother as his early role inspirations. His mother, according to his statements, was the epitome of urban chic, while his grandmother was the quintessential Texan woman, from flashy jewellery to oversized cars.
In 1979, Tom moved to New York and enrolled at NYU as an art history major. He became a regular at the infamous Studio 54 and dropped out of school after just one year. He then moved to Los Angeles to appear in television commercials. After a few years, he returned to New York and enrolled at the Parsons School of Design to study architecture but ended up studying fashion. In 1985, Tom managed to convince prominent sportswear designer Cathy Hardwick to hire him as a design assistant. After two years, he moved to design jeans for Perry Ellis.
In 1990, Dawn Mello, then Gucci’s creative director, hired Tom as the brand’s Womenswear Designer. At the time, Gucci was a brand plagued by management infighting and perceived to be out of touch with the times. Tom rose through the ranks, and just four years later, when the brand was acquired by the Bahrain-based Investcorp, he was appointed creative director.
Once in charge, Tom set about transforming Gucci’s image from one of conservative minimalism to a more sensually sophisticated one.
Tom also had a knack for publicity, particularly those of the attention-grabbing and controversial variety. Tom famously teamed up with French stylist Carine Roitfeld and Italian photographer Mario Testino to produce some of the most iconic and add campaigns of the 1990s. Under Tom, Gucci had once again become the trendsetter that other brands looked up to; and courted by Hollywood A-listers like Gillian Anderson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Goldie Hawn.
Gucci’s change of fortune reflected on the financials as well, thanks to a succession of collections that pleased the critics and consumers alike. Tom also expanded the range of products offered by the brand to include handbags, accessories and perfumes. These factors combined to transform the brand from one that was nearly broke, to going public in 1999 with a valuation of over US $4 billion. With change to spare, Tom was instrumental in the brand’s acquisition of Sanofi Beauté (now YSL Beauté) which owned the Yves Saint Laurent brand, followed by Sergio Rossi, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga.
In 2001, Pinault-Printemps-Redoute (new Kering) acquired a controlling stake in the Gucci group which changed the status quo under which Tom had become accustomed. He went public with his dissatisfaction and, unable to resolve his differences with the new owners, left the Gucci group in 2004.
Rather than taking charge of another big-name brand, Tom believed that he had accumulated enough clout to launch his eponymous label the following year. He began by teaming up with Estee Lauder to launch a cosmetics and fragrance line. Next came an eyewear collection with the Marcolin group. The following year, Tom unveiled a men’s wear collection in collaboration with Ermenegildo Zegna, complete with suits, shoes and accessories. The success of these releases led to the opening of the brand’s flagship store in New York. The brand’s international expansion began with the announcement of merchandising partnerships with luxury retailer Daslu of Sao Paulo and Villa Moda; followed by a string of stand-alone stores starting in London, Milan, and Los Angeles.
A long list of Hollywood A-listers, like at Gucci, has become a mainstay of the brand, including Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, Ryan Gosling and Will Smith. Tom designed an ivory evening gown for Michelle Obama in 2011 which she wore on her visit to Buckingham Palace. Tom has also created the suits for Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, and Spectre.
Tom, as the current chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue magazine, have announced that they are repurposing the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund to help the fashion houses affected by COVID-19.
Away from fashion, Tom has co-written, produced and directed two critically acclaimed films – A Single Man (2009) and Nocturnal Animals (2016). Both were produced under Fade to Black, the film production company he founded in 2005, and both have earned nominations at multiple awards. Speaking of accolades, Tom is one of the most decorated designers of his generation: five Council of Fashion Designers of America awards, four VH-1/Vogue Fashion Awards, GQ’s man of the year in 2000 and designer of the year 2001, as well as being included in Time’s top 100 list in 2011.