Tom Ford almost skipped over “Hello.” “Which one of these things do you want to ask me first?” he pretend barked over the phone from Los Angeles.
Even by Ford’s high-profile, high-glamour, high-newsmaking standards, there were several compelling boxes to check. On Tuesday, the board of the CFDA made it official in a unanimous vote: Ford will succeed Diane von Furstenberg as the organization’s chairman. He assumes the post in June, after 13 years during which von Furstenberg has been the CFDA’s face, its guiding light and its heroine. That sea change was the original and primary purpose of our scheduled call.
But who doesn’t love a tony real estate angle? Earlier in the day, WWD reported that Ford bought Halston’s famed house on East 63rd Street in New York in a deal that closed in January, but he’d managed to keep quiet until now. It would have been nifty news even had Halston not been a major influence on Ford’s career.
Rounding out the topics: Tom’s supposed slam at Melania Trump. It came from out of nowhere on Tuesday morning, swiftly reaching Twitter’s number-two trending topic.
Despite his opening question, Ford preferred to set the agenda himself. “Let’s get the other stuff out of the way so we can concentrate on the important thing, which is the CFDA,” he said. “Let’s get the Melania quote out of the way.” Tom, as you wish.
WWD: Did you say, recently or ever, publicly or in private, about Melania Trump, “I have no interest in dressing a glorified escort who steals speeches and has bad taste in men?”
Tom Ford: No! Never! Never, ever, ever have I said that Melania was an escort. I said on “The View” years ago, before [Donald Trump] was elected, that I would not dress her nor would I dress Hillary Clinton, because the first lady and the president in the White House need to be wearing clothes made in America — mine are not — and clothes at a price point that most Americans can relate to, and my clothes are too expensive. I dressed Michelle Obama once and once only, when she was in England for a white-tie dinner party with the Queen and I was living in London. And that was different.
That’s all I said. I’ve never said anything derogatory about Melania, I never would say anything derogatory. It’s so weird, isn’t it, in today’s world the way someone out of nowhere can just make up a random quote and start circulating it on the Internet?
WWD: On Twitter, people were saying: “We can’t find where he said that.”
T.F.: Because I never did. They’re never going to find it because I never said it.
WWD: You are very cool with your stardom. Are you ever even a little bit impressed by the general-population interest in you? Someone can attribute a random, made-up quote to you and it sets the Twittersphere on fire?
T.F.: The number-two, most-trending tweet or whatever it is in America today. I just find it crazy. I mean, there are lots more important things to be concerned with today in the news than a quote from a fashion designer about the first lady, but anyway.
WWD: Does it awe you even a little that you have that power?
T.F.: I don’t think of myself that way. I think of myself as a dad who comes to the office and… Maybe it’s because I am grounded every day by [my husband] Richard Buckley, who is not going to let me feel like any sort of a star.
WWD: Point taken. Before we get to the house…
T.F.: Well, let’s just do the house so we can get to the CFDA, the important thing.
WWD: To the house.
T.F.: You did some homework. I felt like it was the Mueller report or something — the same LLC that bought the Betsy Bloomingdale house?
WWD: Old-fashioned reporting by a young reporter, Kathryn Hopkins. Is the purchase of the house at all tied to your CFDA chairmanship?
T.F.: Nooo, not at all. And yes, I did buy the house. I was in that house in 1979 or 1980, only once. I was not a friend of Halston’s, but I was introduced to him and I went by that house with a friend to pick someone up before we were going to Studio 54.
WWD: How old were you?
T.F.: I would’ve been 18. That house, it stunned me. It is and has always been one of the most inspirational houses that I was ever in, and one of the most inspirational interiors. I love [architect] Paul Rudolph. He designed [the Halston] house in 1966 for a pair of gentlemen and then redesigned it when Halston moved in — designed all the furniture. To me, it’s is just one of the great American interiors.
It’s a terrific house in New York. It’s got a garage that flips up. You drive in and the garage closes and it’s like a vault. Yet inside, it’s spectacular. I intend to basically put it back to the way it was the very first time I saw it when Halston lived in it. It’s very simple, very minimal, and there’s not a lot to do. I don’t have to knock down any walls. I basically have to just put in a lot of gray carpeting and the furniture.
I stayed in it when I was in New York the last time [for my fall 2019 ready-to-wear show]. I have sometimes said that New York is not my favorite place. But as [my son] Jack is living in Los Angeles, in the future I want him to know how to wear a pair of real shoes and a jacket and go to a restaurant and go to a play. So it’s a kind of house for the future and for the rest of my life.
WWD: It’s hard to find post-Halston pictures of the interior online. It wasn’t changed much?
T.F.: No there’s not a lot I have to do. It’s been very well-respected. Some very surface changes were made, which I think were a mistake, and so I intend to put it back. But it’s very contemporary, a very modern house. It could have easily been designed today. It’s timeless.
It’s a great piece of architecture and enormously pleasant to be in. I felt instantly at home when I stayed there even though it hasn’t been redone. Hugely comfortable and dead silent inside, yet full of light. You close the door and you forget that you’re right in the middle of New York. It’s wonderful.
WWD: But you’re definitely not moving to New York?
T.F.: No, not at all. I go to New York four or five times a year and for Jack’s school holidays, I’ll be going more. It’s a place to be when I’m in New York.
WWD: One more thing about it. Do you think people will read symbolism into it — Tom Ford buying Halston’s house?
T.F.: It’s fine if they do. I think Halston was one of the greatest American fashion designers. I have always said I was inspired by Halston, his simplicity, his modernity. But I didn’t buy the house because it was Halston’s. I bought the house because I loved the house.
Now, do I share certain design similarities and taste with what Halston liked, a certain streamlined minimalism, certainly with regards to architecture and interiors? Absolutely. So what would have appealed to Halston as a house appeals to me as a house as well. It’s a great house. Inside, it’s one thing. Outside it’s very — what is the word – private. While I was staying there, I had a couple of people come by. I would tell them the address and they’d walk right past it and call me — “where are you?” I’m like, “You just walked past it.” It recedes. It’s enormously private and that’s one of the great appeals.
It’s interesting that it was built for two gay men because, of course, in the mid-Sixties, they wanted to live their life without being observed. And, of course, it worked well for Halston and the things that were going on when he was there. So it’s really a kind of refuge in the middle of New York, which is amazing. And it is so dead quiet. You don’t even hear a horn honk.
WWD: Will the CFDA take you here more often now?
T.F.: I don’t think so. I was very straightforward with Diane [von Furstenberg] and Steven [Kolb, chief executive officer of the CFDA] when talking about that. I think that I’ll be able to be in town for board meetings, and that Steven is committed to coming here [to L.A.] a lot when we need to have meetings. And of course, I’ll be at the CFDA Awards, which I often attend, anyway. You know, in today’s world, you can work so well remotely. I work with Italy and London every day.
WWD: The CFDA chairmanship is a huge role. Why are you taking this on?
T.F.: I think a sense of duty. I am American, I think I have a lot to contribute. I’ve been in the fashion industry for 35 years. My first few years working were in America on Seventh Avenue. The last 28 years of my career I’ve been in Europe, other than the last two years here. But my American sensibility, my American approach to the business, I think was one of the keys to my success. I am American at heart, even though I have international experience as a designer.
I think this concept of giving back is an American concept. It’s something that you don’t encounter nearly as much in Europe. As Americans, it’s kind of built in that you get to a certain stage in life and you feel that you need to contribute to the next generation, you feel you need to give back, so to speak. I don’t mean it to sound like I’m donating to a charity, but it seems the right time in my career, and a sense of responsibility and duty, really.
WWD: What will you contribute?
T.F.: I don’t want to get too specific, because I have yet to even have a first board meeting. Diane is still the chairman of the CFDA.
However, the number-one thing that I think I will bring to this is that I think the future of American fashion is to become international. One of the things that struck me the most moving back to America is the isolation that all of us living in America feel in every industry. We have become an island and we’re becoming more so. I think the key to American fashion is to become more international. Yes, we’re Americans, we live in America, we work in America, but that’s not the key to our future. That’s certainly not the key to the luxury industry or to the fashion industry, because everything today is global.
So I think the perspective of someone who has spent most of his [career in Europe], I do think I can bring to [the CFDA] a global perspective [of the industry].
WWD: You’ve often said, including just last fall when we spoke for WWD’s report on “The State of American Fashion,” that you don’t think of fashion as being national or regional, you think of it as being global. You don’t think of yourself as an American designer.
WWD: How does the CFDA fit into a picture in which designers don’t identify as American?
T.F.: Because there are a lot of young designers in America, and there are a lot of American companies that do show. I think that it’s really just a change in the mind-set of how American fashion sees itself in the world. The CFDA still organizes the shows in New York, the calendar, and I think that the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund does some quite great things. I think young designers need to be supported. I think there is definitely a need for the CFDA.
WWD: You’re coming into this at a moment of great volatility in the industry globally but particularly in the U.S. Many American businesses are challenged, and there seems to have been a falloff international interest in American fashion. Are you at all daunted by the position you’re about to assume?
T.F.: Everything is a pendulum. If things were going as well as they possibly could be going, then that’s the dangerous time to take a job because how do you sustain that? And, as I have said, I have not even had a board meeting yet, so I don’t know the ins and outs and the real workings of the CFDA…Let’s just say that I feel I have a vision and something to contribute, otherwise why would I have taken the position?
WWD: How did this come about? Who approached you?
T.F.: Diane approached me, as well as Anna [Wintour], and discussion has been ongoing for a while. It’s very hard to say no to Diane. It’s very hard to say no to Anna. And the thing is, it’s also very hard to say no to me. So I think I’ll be a good successor to Diane.
WWD: It’s tough to say no?
T.F.: It’s one reason I think Diane and Anna are so successful. It’s very hard to say no to them. When they’re determined, they get it done. And I think that it’s very hard to say no to me. When I’m determined, I usually get it done. I think that’s an important part of the position — being someone who it’s very hard to say no to.
WWD: So your candidacy had been on the table for a while?
T.F.: In a more casual way. It became in a very serious way I would say in the last six months. I’m glad to know I was ratified this morning. I wasn’t so sure.
WWD: Official congratulations.
T.F.: Thank you. The CFDA has been very good to me. I remember when I started out in New York on Seventh Avenue in the Eighties, how much the potential of winning a CFDA Award one day meant to me. And I remember the very first one I won and how much that meant to me. I’m not boasting, but I’m staring at seven of them that are sitting right here. They’re one of the only awards that I keep out because they are very meaningful to me.
WWD: Would it be as meaningful to win another one now, this far into your career?
T.F.: Oh, my God, of course. Because the longer you go through your career, the more you like to know that you’re still valid. So, of course winning another CFDA Award would be meaningful because it means OK, I’m not out of the race yet. What I’m doing is still making an impact. So, absolutely.
WWD: What do you think is the greatest challenge of your role, coming into the CFDA right now?
T.F.: As I say, I haven’t even attended a board meeting yet. But following Diane — she has done such an incredible job. She is literally — and this phrase can sound good or bad — but she is larger than life. Diane is a force. She has raised the visibility of the CFDA in so many ways. She really, truly is a hard act to follow. I hope that I can make as much of an impact or even a fraction of the impact that Diane has made to American fashion and the CFDA. She really lends a face to the CFDA.
T.F.: Diane is very outspoken. You don’t not notice Diane. She represents the CFDA in a way that brings attention to it. You need touchstones and figureheads, I think, to give institutions a personality and a character.
WWD: Can you see yourself as chairman for 13 years, as Diane has been?
T.F.: I’ve committed to a two-year term.
WWD: Have you ever been on the board?
T.F.: Of the CFDA? No.
WWD: How did you manage that?
T.F.: Well, I didn’t live in America and I didn’t even become a member of CFDA, until 2000. I was living in Europe through all the Nineties.
WWD: Do you feel comfortable speaking about what you see as the CFDA’s greatest opportunities and your greatest opportunities in the role?
T.F.: Again, it’s too premature for me to tell you all about what I’m going do with the CFDA. I need to go to some board meetings and [develop] my plans.
WWD: Nuts and bolts, sponsorships. The CFDA just parted ways with Swarovski right before the Awards.
T.F.: I don’t know enough about this to even comment.
WWD: When does Diane’s term end and when does your term start?
T.F.: Mine starts next January, almost a year from now. That’s why this is all really premature. We are almost a year away. Diane is pushing to hand it over to me earlier. [Note: After our conversation, the CFDA confirmed that DVF and Ford have agreed that the formal changeover will take place in June.]
WWD: Pre-Swarovski, the Emerging Designer Award was named for Perry Ellis. Do you have any thoughts on renaming the award now?
T.F.: Noooo these are too specific, I can’t answer these.
WWD: OK, no more specific questions.
T.F.: You can ask them, but I can’t comment on them.
WWD: So, nothing specific about New York Fashion Week?
T.F.: I need to get in there and understand all of the concerns. I need to really get involved to be able to answer these questions.
WWD: No, I understand that.
T.F.: I’m sorry. I’m sorry to disappoint you.
WWD: Not at all. Are you prepared to referee squabbles?
T.F.: Well, I think so. Aren’t I? Are there a lot of squabbles?
WWD: I would imagine there are some. Last fall, for the “State of American Fashion” piece, I interviewed Steven and he alluded to, perhaps, expanding the membership of the CFDA beyond designers. So I guess to brands, to retailers, maybe even to press, is that something you —
T.F.: I have no idea about that. I haven’t had any working discussions yet with Steven or anyone other than “will you accept? Will you not accept? We’ll make it work for you.”
WWD: This is an easy one. Diversity and inclusivity have been major focuses of the CFDA. Do you expect that to continue under your watch?
T.F.: Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s the world today. Absolutely, yes.
WWD: Are there any other issues that are important to you that you can talk about?
T.F.: Again, I need to get in. Making an uninformed comment is always stupid because often there are real reasons for why things are what they are or what you can change, what you can’t change. I need to get in and actually understand the workings of it before I make random, irresponsible potentially reckless comments. So I can’t comment yet.
WWD: I understand that. Still, you are by nature not politically correct, and are generally not guarded in your speech. Have you thought of, as Archie Bunker would say, having to stifle yourself sometimes, as the face of the CFDA?
T.F.: You know, as you get older, I’m sure you have found this, there is no time to mince words. You’re just direct. Sometimes that offends people, and sometimes they’re excited by the fact that somebody is just so direct. I certainly intend to be direct. I’m not going to change my personality. But in my job running my own fashion company, you do have to be careful how you phrase things. You can’t just be as candid as you might be at a dinner party. I think there is a way to be direct and to also be respectful and understanding of what is considered today as P.C. and what is not.
WWD: Are you excited about this new CFDA venture?
T.F.: I am. I have a lot going on in my life, which is something that I was very vocal about in expressing to Steven and to Diane and to Anna. That was my great concern. I have the assurance that somehow they’ll work hard to make it work for me. So I hope that we can make it all work, just purely from a time constraint.
WWD: But you’re ready to roll up your sleeves?
T.F.: Of course I am. I never get involved with anything that I’m not fully committed to. I can’t help myself. Someone says, “Oh, it’s not going take any of your time.” Well, of course it will because I’m a perfectionist and anything that I’m involved in I want to be the best, so of course I am.