Tom Ford not only designs some of sexiest clothing on the planet, but he is also one of fashion’s savviest businessmen. The designer was instrumental in saving the Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent brands. After leaving those companies, he launched his own highly successful fashion label and film studio.
Ford was born in Austin, Texas, but grew up largely in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He moved to New York during the 70s and became a regular at Studio 54, sharing the scene with celebrities like Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger and fashion designer Halston.
Speaking to The Guardian, Ford says, “I love the 70s. That was my coming of age and of first seeing things that were so beautiful. I was 17 in 78 and 18 in 79, so that’s the period where I first thought things like, ‘Oh my God, she’s so beautiful,’ ‘His body is so amazing,’ ‘This house is so incredible.’”
Ford graduated from Parsons The New School for Design in 1985 with a degree in architecture. Before graduation, he was an intern at Chloé in Paris, and the experience changed his perspective. “I just woke up one morning and thought, ‘What am I doing?” he recalled. “Every architectural project I ever did, I worked a dress into it somehow. So I realized that fashion was the right balance between art and commerce, and that was it.”
Ford later worked as a design assistant for American designer Cathy Hardwick. Two years later, he was designing jeans at Perry Ellis. But he longed to move to Europe to perfect his craft. In 1990, he accepted the position of womenswear designer at Gucci in Milan. At the time, the company was losing money and struggling to remain relevant.
Ford quickly made his mark. He was designing menswear within six months and shoes soon after. When Gucci’s design director left in 1992, Ford took over and was then in charge of the brand’s ready-to-wear, fragrances, image, advertising and store design. Despite creative clashes with company chairman Maurizio Gucci, Ford was promoted to Creative Director of Gucci in 1994.
Tom Ford’s Fall 1995 Ready-To-Wear Collection is now infamous. The designer featured barely-buttoned satin shirts, skinny velvet pants and bright, patent leather shoes. The collection was inspired by Ford’s favorite decade, and it was super sexy and unmistakably cool.
Within a year, Gucci sales were up 90%. Under Ford’s direction, the Gucci Group increased sales from $230 million in 1994 to $3 billion by 2004. Despite his success, French multinational Pinault Printemps Redoute acquired Gucci in 2004, and disagreements over control of the business led to Ford’s departure.
By 2005, he reinvented himself and launched the TOM FORD label featuring menswear, beauty, eyewear and accessories. His debut womenswear collection in 2010 featured style icons Lauren Hutton and Beyoncè.
Today, there are nearly one hundred Tom Ford stores throughout the world, and his eyewear and beauty collections are ranked in the top 3 brands worldwide. He has received awards from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, GQ, Time Magazine and multiple lifetime achievement awards.