Mr Tom Ford On Fatherhood, Fashion Risks And Mr Timothée Chalamet
Illustration by Ms Aistė Stancikaitė
Life for Mr Tom Ford, who moved from London to Los Angeles in 2018, already seems normal once more. It’s 8.30am his time, he’s already in the office and talking to me, having dropped his eight-year-old son, Jack, off at school 30 minutes earlier.
“Here in California, we have a 70 per cent vaccination rate and have herd immunity,” he says. “Everyone at my home and in my office is fully vaccinated, so we’re already living as if Covid never happened. It’s amazing how quickly everything returned to semi-normal behaviour, how fast you forget. It’s felt this way for a month.”
The designer has plugged this “feeling of joy”, as he describes it, into the exclusive collection he’s created for MR PORTER. He explains its key influence is living in Los Angeles, where people prefer to dress down “unless they’re on the red carpet or they’re a talent agent”. And yet he is adamant that there will always be a place for fine tailoring. “I do think tailoring will continue to thrive for eveningwear,” he says. “Whether it’s worn with a shirt and bow tie or not, an extravagant evening jacket will always be desirable.”
As we can’t see each other – we’re on a call rather than Zoom – I ask him what he’s wearing. Is it, perhaps, a palm-leaf print shirt from the new collection? It turns out even a pandemic cannot force a leopard to change its spots. He tells me he’s dressed in a casual black shirt, casual black trousers, a black safari jacket and black jersey boxers (yes, I did ask). Back to black, I point out. “Here, yes,” he says, “but we’re in the desert a lot, where we have a house , and there I will only wear jeans, a jeans shirt and a heavy boot.
“The thing is I can’t just design for me personally. Every collection would be black and white and grey with a casual pair of tailored pants. You have to imagine if I was Timothée Chalamet and I was going to wherever, would I wear that? And if the answer is no, it goes out of the collection; if yes, then it stays in. You have to expand yourself and imagine what you would like if you were taller, skinnier, younger.”
Even if he will only stick to black and denim himself, which one item would he pick from his collection for MR PORTER? “Take that fashion risk and wear some floral pants,” he says. “Put them with a T-shirt and some trainers. Dress it down, not up. You can only do up if you’re 25 or younger.”
“I can’t just design for me personally. Every collection would be black and white and grey with a casual pair of tailored pants”
It’s hard to imagine someone as particular and regimented – always pristine-looking, ageless in his black suits and crisp white shirts, iced coffees in the tub at six o’clock each morning while contemplating the day’s tight schedule of calls, sign-offs and fittings – embracing the chaos and casualness that the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns brought with them. Or did Ford enjoy some time off from perfection?
“I did relax a bit more,” he says. “At home, I think I wore the same pair of jeans for three months. They started off with no holes and now they have holes in the knees. I just couldn’t be bothered. I would even go for two or three days without washing my hair and, because it’s short and I sleep on my side, it looks a bit strange when I wake up. At first, I was very picky about what I looked like on Zoom calls and set the lights the right way, etc, and then I realised that everyone looks like hell on Zoom. So, in the end I kind of didn’t care as much any more.” He laughs.
It was the terror of him seeing me on Zoom that made me opt for a call rather than a video meet when offered the choice by his office. Now it seems I needn’t have worried. Darn. I ask whether he is going to continue to embrace a more relaxed approach to how he appears.
“No,” comes the firm reply. “It’s not going to stick with me. I came into the office this morning and I was chatting to someone who works here and she said, ‘You look really good.’ And I replied, ‘I don’t. I look like shit.’ And she said, ‘Oh god, me too.’ The epidemic aged us. And so we both agreed that by September we would look amazing.”
Did he at least let a few little silver hairs peer through his dark brown hair while all this was going on? “No. No silver hairs. A friend of mine, who is 65, let her hair go silver through the lockdown and she’s trying to decide whether to put it back to dark or not. I said, ‘Look, having your hair dark or grey is a stylistic choice. There is nothing wrong with having black hair for your entire life until you’re 85 if you feel better with black hair.’
“I’m 60 years old. It’s not natural that my beard and my hair are dark brown. So clearly that’s a stylistic choice. Diana Vreeland kept her hair dark right until the end, as did Ronald Reagan,” he giggles. “It’s a style choice, not an age one. I’m one of the older dads at Jack’s school and I don’t want him thinking, ‘oh my god, why is my dad so old compared to everyone else?’ There is still plenty of time for me to have grey hair.”
One of the joys of talking to Ford is his honesty, as well as his self-deprecating humour. He has clearly thought this all through and has to make considered and serious choices about his own image – it’s so closely allied with his fashion and beauty brands he even appears in some of the campaigns – but he is also happy to admit to imperfections and to be amused by his own vanity, as well as that of others.
One of MR PORTER’s beauty best-sellers, and one of my favourite grooming saviours, I tell him, is his Brow Defining Gel. The brush and gel gently point your eyebrow hairs in the right direction and add a tiny smudge of colour that darkens them slightly. It takes five seconds to apply and five years off your age.
“Do you have any grey in your eyebrows?” he asks. Yes, I admit, sometimes an uninvited guest appears overnight in one or both of them. “You might want to think about dying those eyebrows instead,” he says.
“For summer, my favourite item is always a diet”
Most men of our generation aren’t comfortable talking about the way we look and how it can perhaps be improved upon. “Men are vain,” says Ford. “Vanity expresses itself most in the gym. Men go to the gym all the time. Why? Because they want to have good pecs, they want to have abs. That’s an expression of vanity. It’s just that it’s considered more manly to go to the gym. For a certain age group, there are still stigmas with other areas of male vanity. The one thing all men are openly vain about is their hair. If they think they are losing their hair, straight or gay, they freak out.”
A new, younger generation has no such qualms. YouTube and TikTok are teeming with tips, tricks and treatments that teens and twentysomethings of all gender types are comfortably sharing with each other.
“They are so much more comfortable with all this. My son is, I think, straight – if you can tell whether someone at the age of eight is straight or gay,” says Ford. “I would be very surprised if he grows up to be gay and yet he’s happy to talk about the way he and other boys look. He’ll look at a guy and say, ‘Wow, what amazing eyes he has.’”
Despite the complexities of running a global business with design teams in London and Los Angeles, is there anything, apart from the tattered jeans, that he misses about spending a year at home with his son and husband, Mr Richard Buckley?
“I sat in our dining room, as I don’t have an office at home, which is all glass on every side looking out over the lawns, and each day I could see Jack swimming or playing tennis. We had lunch and dinner together every day. He was eight for that year and I’ll never get a year like that with him again. He’ll never get that again.”
How did he cope with home schooling? An image, perhaps unfairly, I struggle to conjure up in my mind. “Fortunately, his school was very organised. At 8.30am, he was online and then engaged all day until 3.30pm. After that he had tennis coaching – as the coach and he were 72ft apart – and we have a pool, lawns, a dog. It could have been worse. The weirdest thing for Jack was that he didn’t get to see another child for a year.”
I want to know how Ford manages to look so much younger than his years. “Well, at my age, my face is starting to slide down a bit and so sometimes looks droopy. But running for 10 minutes helps it all fall back into place. It’s the cardio, the blood flowing, that wakes you up and seems to really help you look better. A dermatologist told me that tip about 10 years ago. It takes away the puffiness. Even if it’s just 10 minutes of cardio, it helps. The treadmill gives you a lift. And more energy, which I need. Since the world has reopened, my work schedule is already insane again and I no longer get to have a nap at 3.00pm.”
It’s time for him to head to another meeting, this time to discuss his hugely successful cosmetics line. Before we hang up, I ask him for his favourite item for this summer. “For summer, my favourite item is always a diet.” One last chortle and he’s gone. A force of nature, Tom Ford has the talent to make you feel better with both what he designs and with what he says. A talent to improve and amuse you. A rare combination.
Illustration by Ms Aistė Stancikaitė