It’s not every day one gets to see the penis of a sex god. But Tom Ford, among other ostentatiously masculine habits, doesn’t wear underwear. And on a recent afternoon, while we were talking about the ladies who also do not wear underwear—Spears, Lohan, Hilton—Ford is saying that he doesn’t necessarily think they are gauche. “I don’t know, I’m not sure,” he says in his flirty baritone, accented by a macho Texas twang. “Why shouldn’t women have sex for enjoyment? Why should showing off be a bad thing?” He throws one hand in the air, snarls, and reaches down to grab it. “Men have been very crude for a long time—I mean, you walk down the street and guys scream, ‘Hey, baby!’”
One could be embarrassed by looking at Tom Ford’s package if he didn’t draw so much attention to it himself. In the ten years he helmed Gucci, and the four he designed for Yves Saint Laurent, Ford taught American women to become sexual dominants, supplying them the costume of stovepipe trousers and Halston–meets–Elsa Peretti white jersey dresses, as well as leather spankers and sterling-silver handcuffs. Women were personally bewitched by him, the straightest gay man alive: In the way that gay men dream of getting hot straight guys to play on the other team, women are enticed by Ford because his heavy-duty flirting encourages the fantasy that he could fall for you. “I feel,” he says breathily, “that I am keyed into the female consciousness.”
Today, Ford has moved beyond sex professionally, which has been confusing to him in a way. Three years after leaving Gucci, he’s opened a menswear store on Madison Avenue, providing suits, shirts, shoes, perfume, eyewear, and everything else for “all the guys I know, all my friends, who can’t fucking find anything to wear,” he says. “I mean, ‘Hello!’ Okay?” The brand will go global by 2008. “There’s really nowhere in the world that my name isn’t known,” explains Ford, recently returned from a trip to Asia with Sotheby’s, where he was happy to find that young women in Shanghai still recognized him and snapped pictures with camera phones. With a fortune of at least $250 million from his work at Gucci, and his ex-Gucci CEO Domenico De Sole as partner, Ford owns the new company that bears his name. “It made more sense for me to own it,” he says, shrugging. “If you have the money, why pay someone to give you money?”
At 45, Ford is still the only handsome male fashion designer, with perfect stubble, manicured nails, and not an ounce of fat: “When my clothes are getting tight, that’s not a sign to me that I need to go to another size—it’s a reminder that I have to stop eating, or suffer,” he explains. He has been scrutinized for signs of a toupee, Restylane, and lifted shoes. However, the Tom Ford chest hair remains in fine form, a forest of manliness barely concealed by a polo shirt, usually with merely three or four buttons undone.
“I am my own muse,” he says.
It’s a lot to handle being a muse and a brand, especially in a time that isn’t necessarily responsive to your look. Today’s fashion is recycling the eighties, and Ford has always been about the seventies. Resurrecting ’77 in ’97 made sense, since fashion tends to repeat itself every twenty years, but hausfrau trends and disposable H&M styles have little communion with Ford’s view of the world. Plus, in the last couple of years the sex thing started to seem like too much humbuggery, uncool and oily—like Madonna after her sex book, he started to feel like a parody. There was the clamorous cover of Vanity Fair’s “Hollywood” issue, where he was featured nibbling on the ear of a naked Keira Knightley. “Well, I was illustrating, in that photo,” he says. “I don’t know—it’s always nice to have your picture on the cover of Vanity Fair.” He shifts in his seat. “I guess I’m hyper- self-conscious about people thinking that I’m egotistical, 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.”
As a human, Ford is nervous about almost everything, sleeping only a few hours a night, budgeting every minute of the day. “I’m a Virgo,” he explains. “Virgos tend to make things look easy because we are perfectionists, so people think Oh, there’s not much there, because I’ve made it look easy, but that’s not the case.” Even by the standards of today’s overdesigned world, where urban centers have been taken over by too many stores selling armless chairs, Ford may be the most overdesigned creature alive—this is the guy who had an orange tractor at his property in New Mexico spray-painted black because he couldn’t stand the color, okay?