Tom Ford Tells All
BY Advocate Contributors
November 09 2009 7:00 AM ET
Such self-regard does not always lead to self-reflection—other than the sort one gets when immured in the many-mirrored fashion world. But Ford, after feeling as if he were forced out of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent in 2004, dealt with a bout of existential angst that resulted in the kind of self-reflection that went much deeper than the dermatological. Rereading A Single Man—the stream-of-consciousness story of one day in the life of George, a 58-year-old college professor who is trying to break free of his grief over the death of his longtime lover, Jim—and deciding to adapt it for the screen as both the director and (with David Scearce) writer, was an attempt to stake his claim as an artist and, in so doing, begin the healing process of a kind of rarefied grief of his own: the loss of himself.
“I was going through a very similar thing to what George is going through in the book—a very serious midlife crisis,” Ford says. “I think back during that part of my life I wasn’t in touch with my spiritual side. I had neglected that and had become absorbed really in materialism. I had a wealth…of every kind of material success. Fame, a great boyfriend, plenty of houses, tons of money. I could indulge in anything I wanted—which included a lot of cigarettes and vodka, which I have now stopped. But then I hit a point when I turned 40—even though I was still at Gucci until I was around 43—when I had a very severe midlife crisis. I have always struggled throughout my life with depression. I’ve never made any of this public because…well…”
Ford pauses and gathers himself. “I’m not one to wear any of this on my sleeve. When someone would come into my office in the morning and ask me how I was I’d always go, ‘I’m great! Great!’ But I wasn’t great. My own emotional suffering led me to realize I had neglected this spiritual side of my life. I had always depended on this inner voice to lead me along in life and I had shut it out. I had silenced it. I was raised a Presbyterian and went to a private Catholic school in Santa Fe, but I guess I’d describe myself now as perhaps closer to a Taoist. And this is why the book spoke to me so much—this renewed need for spirituality in my life. I had originally read the book in my 20s when you and Ian [Falconer] and I were visiting David Hockney and he introduced us to Christopher Isherwood.”
Falconer, Ford’s first boyfriend, became even a closer protégé of Hockney and is now a much-in-demand set and costume designer for ballet and opera companies and the author and illustrator of the successful series of Olivia children’s books. But we were all back then part of a kind of Hockney harem of young guys who yearned to have artistic careers of our own.
“I think I developed a taste for vodka and cigarettes because my first kiss with a guy was with Ian, and he tasted like vodka and cigarettes back then,” Ford says, both bemused and touched by the memory as he displays again a bit of his endearing brashness. “I never knew I liked men sexually until Ian came into my life. And he wasn’t just my first male kiss. The first blow job I ever gave anyone was the one I gave to Ian in the back of a cab on the way home from a night at Studio 54 as we made our way down to where he lived on Eighth Street and Fifth Avenue. Of course, it was a Checker cab,” he jokes with his innate ability to be both snooty and vulgar at the same time (those now defunct taxis had large backseats—enough room for dalliances en route). Indeed, one of the many personal touches that Ford has incorporated in his version of A Single Man is giving George a last name: Falconer.