Tom Ford must be tough on his housekeeper. ”I’m a little embarrassed you’re in this office because it’s a f—ing mess,” says the famed fashion designer as he surveys his London work space — which, by the way, is immaculate, with dozens of black binders perfectly lined up on bookshelves and a sleek laptop sitting on an uncluttered desk. ”It’s a wreck.” he says. ”No, no, it’s a wreck!”
One of the world’s best-known control freaks may now have found his true calling: movie director. A Single Man, the sumptuous and sensitive mid-20th-century drama Ford has adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel, is certainly gorgeous to look at, but it’s more than just a fashion spread come to life. Starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore, it’s a confidently directed first feature from a creative force who just may have a spectacular second career on his hands.
”Fashion is very fleeting,” says Ford, 48, who first thought about directing 15 years ago while designing womenswear for Gucci. ”You work so hard and you create something that lasts seconds. The first time you see a beautiful woman walk into a room in something you’ve never seen before — a shape that’s new, a heel that’s new — it’s really powerful. Three months later, ‘Yeah, she looks great.’ A year later, time to put that to the back of the closet and move on. It never has that emotional power again. Film has it forever.”
So when Ford left Gucci in 2004, he not only created his own label but also started a production company. ”Because of my reputation,” he says, ”I was offered all of these empty, slick, fashiony 9½ Weeks remakes that meant nothing, said nothing — and why would I want to do something like that?” In Isherwood’s melancholy book — about a middle-aged gay British college professor (Firth) living in Los Angeles and struggling to cope with the recent death of his longtime partner (Matthew Goode) — Ford found material that reminded him of what he calls his ”very early midlife crisis” almost a decade ago. ”I really was lost. I couldn’t see my future,” says Ford, who lives in London and L.A. with his partner of 20 years, fashion journalist Richard Buckley. ”Even though people don’t realize it from my public persona, I can be quite depressive and dark and feel very isolated.”
He’s also a pragmatic businessman. When Lehman Brothers’ collapse last year dried up his financing for the $7 million film, Ford decided to fund the project himself. Although the quick 21-day shoot was hardly leisurely, Firth says, ”he was always immaculately dressed, he was always calm. He made sure that any anxieties were not communicated to anyone else.”
”I wasn’t the least bit nervous about it,” Ford insists, before relenting: ”I was nervous the first day because I knew I had to say ‘Cut!’ and I had never done that in front of anyone.” Perhaps his self-assurance sprang from the reams of research he did on costuming, cinematography, and art direction while writing the screenplay. ”His work ethic is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” says Moore, who plays Firth’s boozy best friend. ”He doesn’t leave things to chance. He’s just ready.”
For a man whose livelihood is built on his own name and image, directing provided Ford the ultimate sense of control. ”It’s the closest thing to being God that we have in our world,” says the Texas native. His power does have limits: Ford is less than thrilled that foreign distributors can create their own posters for A Single Man. ”Our franchised stores cannot even send out an invitation that does not come through my central office. If they’re going to have a party, the waiters have to look a certain way. If they violate this, they don’t get to buy the collection next season,” he explains. ”But I might go to a country and see these scary posters and have no idea where the hell they came from.”
For all his confidence, even Ford — who’d like to make a film every two or three years — realizes that having final cut on his posters may be a ways off. ”It’s not like I’ve made 20 movies and they’ve all been great,” he says. ”This is my first film. The next one might be an absolute disaster.” Not likely — a real control freak wouldn’t let that happen.
Tom Ford at a glance
Born Aug. 27 in Austin. Raised in Texas and New Mexico.
Graduates from New York’s Parsons School for Design with a B.F.A. in architectural design.
Joins Gucci as chief womenswear designer. Promoted to creative director in 1994.
Leaves Gucci and launches his own eponymous line of clothing, eyewear, and fragrances.
Dresses Daniel Craig as James Bond in Quantum of Solace.