Tom Ford: The One and Only

The glamour and coolness of the nineties. The first luxury brand of the twenty-first century. And we have Tom Ford to thank for it all. But that’s how you define new standards of style. An approach.
Text Ulf Lippitz & Wiebke Brauer
Photo Jeff Burton / Trunk Archive

Designer Diane von Fürstenberg once described him as “a cross between a Rolls-Royce and the Marlboro Man”. Which sums it up pretty well, considering that it was this man from Texas who breathed new life into the venerable European fashion houses of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. You could also say: Ford turned fashion into pop culture. To illustrate the point, consider three images: First, Gwyneth Paltrow in the red velvet tuxedo he designed for Gucci in 1996. Then the bottle of his first fragrance for men positioned between a woman’s breasts. (The campaign series, shot by photographer Terry Richardson in 2007, was immediately banned in Italy shortly after its release.) And finally, Tom Ford himself. Now sixty years old, impeccably dressed in suit and tie, the man exudes an aura that lies somewhere between grandeur and a mystifying sensuality. What all three pictures have in common: an explicit sense of glamour. Though Ford himself has always rejected the term. “It’s just the way I like things to look,” as he once said.

Tom Ford was born in Texas but spent the better part of his childhood in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His parents, both realtors, bought him his first pair of Gucci loafers when he was twelve years old. He went on to study architecture and design in Paris and at New York’s Parsons School. Early on, he worked as a model and an actor, applied unsuccessfully for a job at Calvin Klein and in 1986 began working for sportswear designer Cathy Hardwick. In 1988 he got a job at the Perry Ellis fashion company, where he was hired by another up-and-coming fashion designer: Marc Jacobs. In 1990 Ford moved to Milan, where he was hired on as a designer for Gucci’s women’s lines. He was promoted to creative director in 1994 – changing the world of fashion forever.

Credit: Tom Ford. Juliet Ingleby and Lucho Jacob, CR Fashion Book.

Ford himself has always rejected the term “glamour”. “It’s just the way I like things to look,” he once said.

For women, he designed plunging necklines (front and back) and minimal tops that looked like strips of fabric wrapped around the torso. For men, velvet pants and unbuttoned shirts, a radically cool look. Not to mention the provocative advertising campaigns with which he shocked the world. But it was all so new and alluring! In the first few seasons, Gucci’s sales reportedly grew by ninety percent annually. Though we should mention: When he was working in Europe, first at Gucci, later also at Yves Saint Laurent, Americans felt he was too European. On the Old Continent, on the other hand, they thought he was too offensive. In 2004, after ten years as creative director at the Italian fashion label, his time at Gucci came to an end.

How does he view this era today? Very laid-back, of course. In an interview, he once said, “What was considered tasteful, not tasteful, too far in one direction, then was different.” And you can just imagine his lips moving into a slightly upturned smile as he says that. Not rude, just slightly amused.

Tom Ford is at once a cowboy wearing a Stetson and an old-school gentleman. He is distinguished, witty, aristocratic without being elitist. He defines himself as a night person and as someone who absolutely hates breakfast meetings. He feels most at ease during cocktail time, as he says. In 2005 he founded his own brand. And he made men’s fashion desirable again, combining the classic elements of tailoring with the hallmarks of value. Precious fabrics, bespoke craftsmanship, waiting times – this no longer has anything to do with the sort of fleeting fashion collections that Gucci had been unleashing on the public at ever shorter intervals. It is a tribute to the masters in Naples and London, to tradition, perfectionism, quality and skill. Which are also main values, when it comes to directing a film. And that's exactly what he did in 2009.

Find out who his great role model is here, how he succeeded with the adaptation of the novel "A Single Man" and why the creative director now lives back in the USA in the current rampstyle #25 "Keep It Simple and Smart"
now also available as a limited directors cut with Tom Ford cover!

ramp shop

Latest articles

It's cool, men: Steiner Architecture f/f and the Ice Race Pavilion

The best way to counter the summer heat is like the two creators of Steiner Architecture f/f: with cool ideas that are well implemented. Like the Ice Race Pavilion, for example. But Flo Oberschneider and Ferdi Porsche also leave a lasting and sustainable impression with tother projects.

The last of its kind: Chevrolet Corvette C7

The great freedom? We enjoy it with the American sports car dream par excellence: the Corvette Stingray. A high-frequency road trip for Independence Day. Simply perfect.

Asket: A Lasting Classic

Actually, August Bard Bringéus and Jakob Dworsky were only dreaming of the perfect white T-shirt. Then the two Swedes, who met at Stockholm School of Economics, founded the fashion label Asket and began to radically rethink fashion.

Thank you very mud: Our Carwash with Daniele Calonaci, Head of Jeep Design

A heads-up on International Mud Day: it's going to get dirty. Very dirty. And Daniele Calonaci from Jeep shows what it means when a designer takes the ramp carwash literally.