That transition from no-name couturier to the subject of Jay Z songs, however, didn’t just happen overnight. After a stint in PR at Chloé and two years working under American designer Cathy Hardwick, Ford found a more permanent home at Perry Ellis becoming good friends with both the brand’s president Robert McDonald and its then designer Marc Jacobs. His much-criticized (but now iconic) “grunge collection” for the brand inspired him to leave American fashion for Gucci, which was then a struggling brand in desperate need of an overhaul in the women’s ready-to-wear space. Ford was then shortly promoted to head creative director — a position he held from 1994 to 2004 — as his clothing began to capture the imagination of buyers, helping the brand to quickly reemerge as one of the biggest in the industry.
But despite all of the success he’s had since, both in the arena of film (his upcoming movie, Nocturnal Animals, is one of this year’s mot buzzed-about) and under his eponymous fashion line, the designer admitted in The Jess Cagle Interview that his departure from Gucci is something that’s still as shocking and sad to him as it was more than 20 years ago.
“I never thought I would leave Gucci,” he shares in the clip above of the split, which occurred over creative differences with the brand’s owners. “As a fashion designer I was very satisfied, because I was free to create what I felt was right. It was quite devastating.”
He adds that he had planned to “retire” from fashion at 43 after leaving the brand, and hoped to focus on movie making instead, but the void in his life was so great that he decided to do both (hence, his eponymous line was born).
“I wasn’t prepared for what it felt like when you had such a crowded calendar and life and your identity is kind of wiped away,” Ford says. “I had blank pages on my calendar. It took me much longer to find a film project that spoke to me.”
For more from Tom Ford, watch the full episode of The Jess Cagle Interview, available now on the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the PEN app on Apple TV, Roku Players, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, iOS and Android devices.
Watch the rest of the video above to find out why Ford “felt like [he] had no voice” after leaving the luxury brand.