Tom Ford Tells All
BY Advocate Contributors
November 09 2009 7:00 AM ET
On a brash roll now, he mentions another. “In the movie, when George talks about shaving off his eyebrow after taking some mescaline—that happened to Ian and me on that trip when we all were visiting David. One night Ian and I took some mescaline to go to Studio One, and I ended up shaving my own eyebrow off. Back when I read that book in my 20s, I loved it and kind of had a crush on George as I read it.
I’ve always had a thing for older, smart guys. And then I read everything I could find by Isherwood after we all met him. I was in awe of him and became a bit obsessed with him, really. When I picked up the book again in my 40s it affected me on a much deeper level. I realized this is a book about the false self. The first line kind of stopped me in my tracks: ‘Waking up begins with saying am and now.’ The underlying theme of the book is letting go of the past and being able to live in the present—which was what I was struggling to do at that point in my life. I no longer had a crush on George but felt as if I had become George myself—both mentally and spiritually. Though I certainly love the book, through the process of making the film I grafted much of myself onto it. It was cathartic.”
Although Ford has elicited Oscar-worthy performances from Colin Firth as George and Julianne Moore as his blowsily stylish confidante, Charley, many Isherwood purists may be upset by some of the grafting he has done. The most important Isherwood purist, his longtime lover, Don Bachardy, has given his seal of approval to the film, however, and told Ford that Isherwood himself—he died in 1986—would have loved it and been OK with the changes. Ford has made George, now a bit younger at 52, much less frumpy in his version of the story. In fact, he’s now downright chic. There’s even a slight resemblance to Yves Saint Laurent in the figure that Firth cuts on-screen. “Other people have said he reminds them of a young Michael Caine,” Ford says. “Yves Saint Laurent had never occurred to me. For one thing, Colin is masculine and Yves was very femmy.”
It’s tempting to see a correlation between Ford putting his own spin on A Single Man and Ford putting his own spin on the couture houses he led, including Yves Saint Laurent.
“I don’t even remember much about my time at Yves Saint Laurent, though I do think some of my best collections were [there]—other than that black-and-white initial one. That one wasn’t very successful and wasn’t very good. But being at Yves Saint Laurent was such a negative experience for me even though the business boomed while I was there. Yves and his partner, Pierre Bergé, were so difficult and so evil and made my life such misery. I’d lived in France off and on and had always loved it. I went to college in France. It wasn’t until I started working in France that I began to dislike it. They would call the fiscal police, and they would show up at our offices. You are not able to work an employee more than 35 hours a week. They’re like Nazis, those police. They’d come marching in, and you had to let them in and they’d interview my secretary. And they can fine you and shut you down.
Pierre was the one calling them. I’ve never talked about this on the record before, but it was an awful time for me. Pierre and Yves were just evil. So Yves Saint Laurent doesn’t exist for me.”
Ford didn’t buy anything from the YSL estate sale in February 2009. “God, of course not. I have letters from Yves Saint Laurent that are so mean you cannot even believe such vitriol is possible. I don’t think he was high when he wrote them either. I just think he was jealous, and Yves and I were friends before I took over the company. But then we began to move the company forward and were very successful…he just became so insanely jealous…that phase in my life just doesn’t exist anymore.”