In cinemas today, A Single Man has already generated awards buzz thanks to Colin Firth’s Oscar-nommed, career-best performance.
Well, duh. It’s awards season. You can’t move in the multiplex without hitting someone who’s hoping their name’s in the envelope come March 7th.
Yet, great though his performance is, it’s not Firth who distinguishes A Single Man but the man behind the camera. The film is the directorial debut of fashion designer Tom Ford, the man who put the juice into Gucci and brought sexy back into fashion.
A multi – and we mean multi – millionaire, his move into moviemaking would suggest he’s biggest vanity-project chancer around. Unless, of course, he’s the real deal.
From haute couture to Hollywood contender, we ask: who is Tom Ford?
The Hoochie Gucci Man
“I was born in a jacket,” claimed Tom Ford in 1996, explaining how he’d managed to transform the fortunes of faded fashion house Gucci in just two years.
He’s probably fibbing, but it’s a typical Tom Ford line – snappily quotable, dryly funny, pitched somewhere between wry self-deprecation and outstanding arrogance. This is the man, after all, who said, "I think of myself as a product."
If it's actual facts yer after, here goes. Born in Texas to a family of estate agents, Ford achieved his first success acting in commercials as a teenager. That led to the high life of Studio 54’s heyday, where Ford realised that a) he was gay and b) fashion was his calling.
Rising swiftly in the U.S. clothing community, by 1990 he took a calculated decision to go Continental, claiming that American culture was “inhibiting me. Too much style in America is tacky...Europeans, however, appreciate style.”
He got his first gig at Gucci but arrived at a faltering label that was unsure how to react to the twin perils of recession and AIDS, which had sucked both the money and the fun out of fashion.
And then, in 1994, just 32 years old, he got his shot at glory when he was promoted to Creative Director.
Within a year, sales had increased 90%...and when Madonna was papp-snapped wearing Ford-designed Gucci at the 1995 MTV Music Video Awards, the label went stratospheric.
The secret of Ford’s success: sex! Gucci reclaimed its lust(re) because, as Ford noted, "There was a certain hedonistic quality . . . we hadn't had hedonism in so long."
Ford thrived on controversy, establishing Gucci’s naughty credentials with provocative ads like a naked model revealing a G-shaped thatch of pubic hair. Oo er, Carry On up the catwalk.
Ford, cannily, cried wolf. “There had to be a message. When I shaved the G in the girl's pubic hair, that was a comment on the ridiculous lengths we'd gone to with branding." Or, possibly, as the Scissor Sisters put it, he was just being filthy/gorgeous.
Yet column inches alone don’t account for success; Ford was a natural designer ("I'm lucky, I have mass-market tastes. When I say I like a shoe, generally thousands of people will like it") and a hands-on businessman.
By 2000, when Gucci bought Yves St Laurent and Ford found himself helming two of the most prestigious brands in the world. And then – disaster.
A change in management in 2004 signalled a head-to-head, and Ford walked. He left Gucci as one of the world’s most famous and desired brands, and with a personal reputation as the best in the business. What would Tom Ford next?
It's doubtful many anticipated that the answer would be "filmmaking."
Next: Flirting With Film