The son of middle-class real-estate brokers who lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and then Texas, Ford grew up entranced with his glamorous grandmother and loving clothes himself, putting his new pairs of shoes on the table beside his bed before he went to sleep at night. He came to the city to attend New York University at 17. “One night, I was sitting in my room at Weinstein dormitory, thinking, God, please let someone knock on the door, because I was so lonely,” he says. “Then this nice guy from my art-history class in this cute little blazer came in, and he asked if I wanted to go to a party. Andy Warhol was at the party, and he took us to Studio 54—wow. Even today, I still start shaking when I hear Donna Summer, because it’s the music of my coming of age. Every party I have, if I’m not careful, I end up putting that music on and whirling some girl around the dance floor.”
Ford has a wicked, awesome sense of humor, but he is fanatical about the way he is presented in the press, drowning reporters in preprepared sound bites. He’s a lot like an actor: He mostly communicates his humor through physical comedy—throwing himself against a banquette in a re-creation of traveling on the Concorde, or doing a masterful impression of President Bush, who he believes should be “impeached for war crimes.” He wishes he did not have to speak at all. “Everybody thinks Tom’s some big press whore, but he’s painfully shy, and it’s hard for him to put on his social face,” says his longtime partner, Richard Buckley. Says Ford, “I wish I could’ve been a rock star, because they don’t have to talk—their music talks for them. Plus they get to sleep all day, do lots of drugs, and have sex with anyone they want.”
Though the metatext of the Tom Ford comeback is that he’s no longer just about sex—he’s about posh!—pretty much the only conversational subject Ford warms to is sex. Suddenly, his demeanor changes, and he assumes the sultry tone of voice of a 976 telephone worker. It’s his fashion-superhero sex costume, and he’s really comfortable in it. There are reveries: “I still like looking at naked people, even if I don’t quite look the way I used to without my clothes on,” he says. “It’s part of our nature, wanting sex; you eat tonight and you think you’re full, but then tomorrow you’re hungry again. Now there’s all this cartoon sex because porn is so widespread—the girl going he he he he and the guy going uh uh uh uh—so boring. Imagine a hundred years ago, when you were just drawn to the person—imagine all the weird sex that happened! They didn’t know what to do, they just did what they liked. Think of how perverted it must’ve been…”
As a brand, Ford thinks he’s the biggest rock star ever. In fact, his own book, Tom Ford, proclaims, “He identified an emerging cultural moment, bottled its essence, and created a commercial sensation that will be studied by sociologists and business analysts for years to come.” The reactions to Ford’s departure from Gucci in 2004 were cast in similarly heightened terms: “A catastrophe,” declared Anna Wintour at the time.
“I went to my house in London at 4 p.m. on the afternoon that I left Gucci and got into bed,” says Ford. “I was super-depressed. I had terrible, terrible nightmares. My life at Gucci was like being married, having two kids, and living in a house you’ve built. Then you come home one day, the door’s locked, and your wife is in there fucking someone else.”
At first, he spent a lot of time playing tennis. He bought fancy golf clubs. He opened an office near Beverly Hills, a sweet thirties suite in the old Geffen Records building. He spent three or four months learning to use the Internet—“I had never used a computer until I left Gucci,” he says. “We just had our system: The assistants would put everything on my desk, and I would circle and scratch and write, and dictate and dictate and dictate.” He pursued a career directing film but found that producers were mostly sending him projects for “the guy who put a G in a girl’s pubic hair.” He started to write screenplays, but sometimes his brain would freeze. He thought about designing a car. He thought about designing a plane.
“Then, I went into analysis for six months, with an analyst who didn’t just listen but really told me what to do, and I learned that I have to create!” he says. “I had a real-life ah-ha epiphany. I knew I wanted to go back into fashion, but I also still want to do a film—I don’t even want to get into it, because everybody will laugh at me and I’m sick of it, but I am really serious about making movies and I will get one made. I hesitate to say when I will come back to womenswear, because it’s such a big job and you’re completely married to it, but I will never retire. I will work until the day I die.” He has the dying part figured out as well: At his 15,000-square-foot compound in New Mexico, where it takes half an hour to drive from the gate to house, and there’s nothing for miles around except empty air, he and Buckley have designed two sarcophagi, their resting place for eternity.
He laughs, a hearty, jovial guffaw.
“Now I have my passion back,” he says.