Show me a man who says he doesn’t care how he looks, and I’ll show you a liar. Show me a man who says he wouldn’t love to look like Daniel Craig as James Bond or Colin Firth in A Single Man, and I’ll show you another liar. But show me a man who looks at Tom Ford with a bit of disdain, and I’ll show you a man who is in denial of some envy.
Every man is interested in looking good and feeling attractive. The combination gives confidence to the wearer, offers an appeal to the observer and opens doors. Tom Ford always looks good, and I’m pretty sure he feels attractive. Whether he’s in a tailored dinner jacket at a black tie event, in his signature “chauffeur-chic” uniform at a premiere or in a denim shirt, jeans and a cowboy hat directing a film in the Texas desert… Tom Ford always looks good.
As I see it, Tom Ford isn’t really a “designer” in a strict artistic sense, per se. He’s more of a curator of classic elements of men’s style that have been around for a long time. He’s not inventing anything new. Rather, he’s reminding us (and himself) of flourishes, silhouettes and textures that had been forgotten or abandoned. With an uncanny sense of taste, history and detail, he recycles menswear’s most elegant renewables. Bold lapels? Not new. Collar pins? Not new. Flared trousers… tailored shirts with more substantial collars… cummerbunds… turn-back cuffs on dinner jackets…? Not new, and all classic flourishes that recall a forgotten masculine glamour. Ford’s brilliance is knowing which forgotten and abandoned touches to resuscitate and how to frame them. When he finally puts a ruffled bib on a tuxedo shirt (and I pray he does), my head will probably explode with glee.
Like Ralph Lauren, Ford is an extremely astute and successful commercial lifestyle designer, creating fantasy and mystique with a virtually unerring eye for what looks good and what inspires desire. And unlike many other designers, he doesn’t try to reinvent the way men dress. He has an extraordinary understanding of what flatters the male shape most optimally, and he has a phenomenal perception of the power of image and how people respond to it. If you boil it down, his look is very old school and classic, pulling from tried and true tropes that always looked good on men.
Again… nothing new, which is particularly amusing as I watch other designers bend over backwards and kill themselves in an effort to stand out and make menswear history. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the work and artistry brought forth by fashion designers. In fact, there is some incredible capital “F” fashion out there that should be celebrated. Some of it’s edgy, some of it’s fun. There’s a lot of beauty (and absurdity) out there, and it deserves wondrous applause. But at the end of the day, like most culturally aware men on this planet, I’m not interested in wearing it.
Tom Ford’s gift is a keen sense of what people want and what they find attractive and alluring on a much more wearable level. Ford himself has acknowledged that his brand is a decidedly commercial enterprise designed to appeal to a broader yet discerning (and very wealthy) customer who appreciates classic design, exquisite quality and uncompromising craftsmanship.
As a writer for discerning men with budgetary constraints, I’m invariably reminded by readers of how expensive Tom Ford’s clothes are whenever I merely mention his name or post a photo or article on him on social media. Yes, his clothes are very expensive. But unfortunately for us mortals, most clothing brands within our respective price ranges do us a grave disservice with everything from ill-fitting clothes, uninspired photography and art direction and just plain bad information when it comes to what to wear and how to wear it. As I wrote recently on this blog, the luxury industry does all of that much better. Ford plays on a level of taste and sophistication from which we can all learn and take. It’s not about buying Tom Ford clothes, or about taking it all so literally. It’s about observing a master, educating the eye, getting inspired and incorporating what I learn and like into my own repertoire within my own budget. (In fact, Ford himself has plainly stated that he hates seeing men dressed head-to-toe in Tom Ford, much preferring to see a nicely executed mix of sources and influences.)
In terms of his own inspirations and influences, I love where Tom Ford is coming from. He loves classic films, and it’s obvious. His sweet spot is from the late 1960s through the 1970s, which happened to be important and formative years for a man his age at the time. Being almost a decade younger than he, I completely understand. My memory of how men looked in the movies and tv shows from that time recalls a very glamorous, sexy, hyper masculinity. Male stars of legit movies and porn during that period looked very handsome, distinctly masculine and downright hot.
In menswear bro-speak, there’s an unfortunate phrase: “like a boss.” I’m not a fan of it (what if the boss is a dick?), but I get it. Dressing well means dressing “like a boss.” The aesthetic of many popular men’s designers and influencers is “like a boss,” I guess. This “like a boss” meter is actually a great place to differentiate Tom Ford from most others: unlike most of the others, I’d say Tom Ford’s aesthetic is not just “Like a boss” but more “Like a boss I’d want to have an affair with.” But not just any affair. A lock-the-corner-office-door, let’s do-it-on-the-desk affair… an affair that, if discovered, could tumble an empire. That kind of “like a boss.”
With the exception of Ralph Lauren, I can’t think of many other men’s designers who reach that bar. While Thom Browne may be another reigning titan of men’s style right now, I would argue that the Thom Browne style raises an eyebrow before it raises a pulse. Credit is due to Browne for making his mark by slimming us out of the oversized ‘90s power suit in one collection, causing a ripple effect that was undeniable and necessary. But that signature Thom Brown uniform will always make me imagine the board of regents at a Nazi kindergarten. While the look is interesting and different and yada yada yada, I never wanted to go to bed (or even have lunch) with anyone in a Thom Browne suit.
I don’t mean to push the sex button too hard here, but there is something undeniable that must be addressed with respect to Tom Ford’s style and influence. I don’t mean to suggest that sex is the only driving factor at play with his brand image. Nor do I think one should deny one’s nature and be prudish about its importance. We are – in most cases – an evolved species with passions and interests that go into many other important directions. But a big reason for Tom Ford’s appeal and success has been an unapologetic tango with sexuality since his first day at Gucci in the early ‘90s.
Show me a man who says he doesn’t think about sex several times each day, and I’ll show you another liar. That’s not to reduce men to crude beasts, though. Every worthwhile man with a soul wants to do good work, to be a good husband/father/brother/son/friend and to help others in need. But the one unwavering impulse you can always count on with the male species is the desire to get laid. With more taste and elegance than perhaps any other men’s designer, Tom Ford understands that undeniable truth of human nature implicitly.
The Blind Spot
As much as I love Tom Ford, there is one blind spot in his otherwise stellar fashion empire that gives me grief: his use of fur. I don’t care how many people the fur industry employs; I don’t care how much money it makes; I don’t care how much Anna Wintour demands and normalizes it. It isn’t fabulous. It’s vulgar, whether it’s a whole coat or just trim on a hood. Though we have a primal appetite for sex that will never dissipate, we are not cavemen anymore. In the interest of being a more evolved species, one would think we’d be past this. It disappoints me that a man (and a dog owner) of Tom Ford’s considerable intellect and sensitivity is willing to go along with it. I hope he can see things differently one day and abandon such an archaic, barbaric and totally unnecessary use of sentient beings.
The Jess Cagle Interview
In November of 2016, Ford sat down with Jess Cagle from People/Entertainment Weekly. Here is a playlist of excerpts from the complete hourlong interview, which you can watch here.