Tom Ford: Not so Black and White After All

Tom Ford is not just a designer. He’s the designer who saved Gucci and the Group behind it.

Tom Ford is not just a marketer. He’s an epic marketer. (See Group reference above.)

Tom Ford is not just a man. He is Tom Ford – the Image.

And now he’s directing moving images. His first film, A Single Man, debuted at the Venice Film Festival and then at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last month.

I attended the TIFF presentation of the film and had a conversation with Ford, albeit fleeting.

He may have worn black and white (as did I, by chance) but the man in front of the audience was anything but.

The Intense Mr. Ford
The Intense Mr. Ford

I was expecting a chiseled, manly Ford with full-on stage presence, an heir of entitlement, or at least seasoned media entitlement, hanging high above him. He is handsome, no doubt, but not quite as tall and much slimmer than one would expect. This was a subtler, shyer Ford – still with confidence of course, yet lacking in that bravado, that controlled and managed sense of his brand that he has in so many fashion interviews.

Was this Tom Ford, the director? If so, I liked him right away and wanted to get to know him better as he spoke. Maybe invite him over for a cup of tea – okay, glass of champagne.

Colin Firth and Julianne Moore were his thespian bookends at the event. Firth is actually even taller and more handsome than he looks on screen (although I do prefer the subdued and tamer hair he has in the film). Moore is petite and shy, and ocasionally held her head up to make eye contact with the audience, preferring to look down sweetly and giggle shyly, as Ford did a short intro to the film.

Ford, with thespian bookends, Firth & Moore
Ford, with thespian bookends, Firth & Moore

I was expecting the film to be visually striking. I mean, this is the man who had the tractor of his Santa Fe ranch painted black because the yellow was visually disturbing to his eye’s view of the landscape. And visually, it was stunning, but unexpectedly so. It wasn’t the in your face glamour of say, the Gucci ad campaigns. This, like Ford that night, was more subtle, more understated – yet still so powerful. The decor,  the bespoke Tom Ford (of course) menswear worn perfectly by Firth, the vehicle he drives, the family next door, all beautifully curated. Every colour, every object in the film is well thought out.

“For me style without substance is nothing and so that’s just a veneer, a layer that helps define the characters,” said Ford, speaking after the film.

What I wasn’t expecting from this first time director was this deep and meaningful film. About 15 minutes in, I forgot about Ford – the icon – and got lost in his lovely film. It was simply put, a human story well told.

I asked Tom (one can call him that after he’s shared something so private) once he had made the decision to direct, whether he knew this was the project he wanted to pursue as his first.

“Initially no, you know the first thing I had to think about was okay I know what I have to say as a fashion designer but why does anyone need to go to another film? Why does anyone need to go to one of my films? What do I want to say? It took me quite a while – I read a lot of scripts, I thought about a lot of things. I had two other books optioned that I was working on – none of them were quite right. There wasn’t a message that I felt needed,  or a story that I felt needed telling at this moment in time,” contended Ford.

“I’ve always been very fortunate and have a kind of intuition and sixth sense about things. One day I was driving to my office in Los Angeles and I was thinking about George. I read this book originally in the early  ’80s and realized that I thought about George a lot. In my mid 40s it spoke to me as a very spiritual book which was something I had completely missed in my early 20s and I realized – I had just a little flash – this is it, this is what I want to make into a film.”

George Falconer, the main character of the book, may have come to life via Ford’s vision of him.

But from where I was standing, I think George Falconer – the softer, gentler man – brought out the humbler man in Ford. He said soulfully,   “…for me, it was a very positive message and one that I felt very strongly about at this moment in my life and that I think is the right message for now.”

As usual, he was right on the money – literally. The film has been picked up for distribution by the Weinsteins and Firth is already getting Oscar buzz. [Update Nov 30: So is Mr. Ford.]

[Update Dec 15: A Single Man received three Golden Globe nominations: one each for Moore and Firth and a third for Best Score. The awards air on January 17, 2010.]


My thanks to Tom for the conversation and to B, for the surprise.

All photos by Jyotika Malhotra. Trailer, courtesy of Fade to Black.

Incidentally, our fave new director might be designing womenswear again.

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  1. Jyotika Malhotra
    October 5, 2009

    Thanks Kimberly – I appreciate the feedback.

  2. Jyotika Malhotra
    October 5, 2009

    Thank you for your feedback!

  3. Patti Neidow
    October 5, 2009

    Very well written piece. Thanks.

  4. October 4, 2009

    Great summary of your impressions of the cast and critique of the movie. The detail you pointed in the film shows Ford’s talent for style, but also his ability to frame and convey the larger meaning of the story which is about love between people – definitely lots of substance in this film.

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