How Tom Ford Went from Designer to Director


The mere mention of the name Tom Ford immediately calls to mind high fashion, extravagance, and exquisite taste. Despite branching out into screenwriting and directing with his 2009 feature film A Single Man and 2016 follow-up Nocturnal Animals, Ford remains a key player in the fashion industry. He is most well known as the creative director of the once-failing fashion house Gucci and played a key factor in turning it around from a struggling accessories brand into a profitable luxury design house. In his 14 years with Gucci (ten at the helm as Creative Director), Ford increased Gucci’s annual revenues from $ 200 million to $ 3 billion. After he resigned in 2005, Ford would go on to start his eponymous brand Tom Ford.

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The multitalented Ford is a true renaissance man and thrives in every creative field he lends himself to. In 2009, Ford would realize his dream of becoming a filmmaker with his debut feature A Single Man. Seven years later, he would release his second film Nocturnal Animals to critical acclaim. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in November 2021, Ford talked about his next film. “I’ve been working on a screenplay of a book I have the rights to, but I’ve been so busy – and during the pandemic, like a lot of people, I felt a bit shell-shocked and not remotely creative,” he says. “But I’m not tired of the question. I just wish my answer could be, ‘We start shooting in two months.’ ”Here’s how Tom Ford went from designer to director.


Ford’s Early Life

Tom Ford was born in Austin, Texas in 1961 to realtor parents Shirley Burton and his namesake Tom Ford Sr. Ford grew up in Texas and later moved to New Mexico with his family at the age of 11. He was destined for a career in design from a young age; at six, he used to rearrange the furniture in his home and offer his mother advice on her hair and shoes. His fascination with movies also started in his youth, as he was a regular at a local art house theater that showed classic Hollywood moviesand according to The Independenthe once told Entertainment weekly that in another time he would have worked for MGM Grand.

After Ford graduated from Santa Fe Preparatory School in 1979, he moved to New York City to study Art History at NYU. It was during his time at NYU that a friend of his introduced him to Studio 54, where after years of dating women, Ford realized he was gay. His time at NYU was cut short, however, when he decided to drop out to focus on acting in television commercials. Ford’s short-lived acting career was remarkably successful, and at one point in time, he was featured in 12 national advertising campaigns at once. Ford would eventually study architecture at Parsons The New School For Design. In his final year, he would switch his focus to fashion design, but graduated with a degree in architecture in 1986. It was at this point in his life that Ford set his sights on the fashion industry.


A Successful Fashion Career

Upon graduating from Parsons, Ford became obsessed with gaining a foothold in the fashion industry. He was determined to work for American designer Cathy Hardwick and called her once per day for a month straight until she agreed to interview him. His persistence paid off when she offered him a job as her design assistant, a position he would hold for two years. It was at Cathy Hardwick that Tom Ford would meet his long-time partner Richard Buckley. Ford and Buckley had a 35-year relationship and shared a son named Jack before Buckley passed away in 2021.

In 1988, Ford moved to Perry Ellis as he had a connection with womenswear designer Marc Jacobs and President Robert McDonald. Ford would work for Perry Ellis for two years before he became tired of American fashion and decided to move to Europe to, as he famously put it, “become a good designer.” In 1990, Ford began working for Gucci as the women’s ready-to-wear designer. At the time, Gucci was a nonprofitable, failing accessories brand and was in the middle of a brand overhaul. By 1992, Ford was appointed design director at Gucci, and by 1994, promoted to Creative Director.


Ford is notorious for bringing the luxury brand back to life. His designs exuded excess and sex appeal and were inspired by his disco-era days at Studio 54. During his tenure as Creative Director, Ford also brought Yves St. Laurent, Sergio Rossi, Bottega Veneta, and Balenciaga under the Gucci banner. Ford and Gucci would eventually part ways in 2004 when holding company Pinault-Printemps-Redoute bought a controlling interest in the brand. After Ford left Gucci, he designed his eponymous line of beauty, eyewear, accessories, and menswear. Ford also recently penned an essay for Air Mail, citing his thoughts on the Ridley Scott fashion designer biopic House of Gucciwhich reads more like an expertly written movie review.

Related: Exclusive: Robert Bentivegna on Writing House of Gucci

A Growing Film Career

In 2005, Ford decided to focus on his filmmaking aspirations, signing with CAA talent agent Byron Lourd and starting his own production company Fade to Black Productions. In 2006, he bought the rights to the Christopher Isherwood novel A Single Man and a script written by David Scearce, which Ford would eventually rewrite 15 times. Having no experience with directing, Ford read books on the subject including On Directing Film by David Mamet. According to an interview with the New York Times, Ford’s friends advised him to direct a short film first as a display of his talent and to hire a professional screenwriter. Ford hired a screenwriter, but his penchant for creative control led to disagreements.

A Single Man was a difficult project to finance in part because the big studios were not willing to shell out for a first-time filmmaker, and in part because of the subject matter. Ford would ultimately finance the $ 7 million production budget with his own money against the advice of Hollywood insiders. In 2009, A Single Man premiered at the 66th annual Venice International Film Festival to critical acclaim. It would go on to be nominated for and win a slew of awards for leading actor Colin Firthand a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film. A Single Man follows the life of English Professor George Falconer (Firth) who falls into depression and contemplates suicide after the death of his long-time lover and partner.


In 2015, Ford would write and direct his second feature film Nocturnal Animalswhich is one of the best psychological thrillers of the past decade. The film follows an art gallery owner (Amy Adams) who receives a novel manuscript from her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal), which holds haunting parallels to their real-life marriage. Ford was prepared to cover the $ 22.5 million budget for Nocturnal Animals as well to maintain creative control. Focus Features acquired the project, however, when they made Ford an offer he could not refuse, giving him a $ 20 million budget while still allowing him full creative control, final cut, and ad approval across all campaigns. The ad approval was particularly appealing to the sophomore director as he felt The Weinstein Company did not market his first film A Single Man to the best of their abilities. Ford told The Hollywood Reporter in a November 2021 interview that “Other than having Jack and raising him, making A Single Man is probably the single thing I’m most proud of because it was so incredibly personal, ”Ford says. “I loved the process. It was so enormously fulfilling. I wish I had time to make more films, but somehow I created this big business. ”




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