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LOS ANGELES — Tom Ford, designer-director? Just maybe.

Even before the official termination of his reign at Gucci Group, fashion’s fascination of the moment is already mulling a comeback. True, Ford has gone Hollywood, signed with agent Bryan Lourd and is on the hunt for the perfect project for his directorial debut. But his current trip here has less to do with hunkering down in his expansive Richard Neutra house to work through the scripts he’s been sent than with fashion matters, of which Sunday night’s Rodeo Drive Walk of Style award was only one.

This story first appeared in the March 30, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

And the closer he gets to vacating his Gucci office in London that once belonged to Henry Ford, the more he’s thinking that there’s still a Ford in the design world’s future — perhaps sooner rather than later.

“I have started entertaining the idea of something I didn’t think I would — of continuing as a designer,” Ford said in an interview at his house in Bel-Air Sunday before the Walk of Style ceremonies.

In this love ’em and leave ’em world, time is of the essence.

“That doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow, but it could be a year from now,” he said. “Probably the moment I leave Gucci, maybe I’ll have six months where let’s say my personal stock will remain at a certain level. After that, it will probably start to fall, maybe slowly at first. And maybe I’ve got a year before it even starts to fall — there’s a lag between the public sensing that you’re gone and you actually really being gone. But I’m not foolish about it; I’m very well aware of it. It doesn’t mean that after that, people won’t be interested at some point in knowing what I’m doing, but I won’t have the clout in the design industry that I have now. It doesn’t mean that you can’t do it three years later — Jil Sander’s just come back. But it’s harder. I’m leaving right now on a very nice high. It would be certainly easier to do it soon.”

Ford declined to say exactly what “it” might be, but implied he might not limit his scope to fashion. It’s no secret that he has been bombarded by feelers from potential investors and partners from within and beyond fashion, eager to parlay his reputation into a new success. Increasingly, Ford is thinking that they have a point. “Every day, constantly, I think, ‘Oh, that would make a great jacket,’ or ‘This kind of heel would be great,’ or ‘Those would make great plates,’ or ‘Our stores could use a total overhaul,’” he said. “I have this outlet now, and as I’ve started to contemplate life without it, I’m not so sure that I will not want that.”

Which is not to say that Ford is rethinking his yen to direct films. “I don’t believe we have to follow normal formulas just because something has never been done,” he said. “Fashion and film — just because it hasn’t been done, doesn’t mean it can’t work.”

He just wishes everyone would stop asking for details. “When you’re seeking to find yourself you should shut up. Right now I’m seeking to find my next life, and I should shut up….I think there’s nothing sillier than listening to someone publicly dribble on and discover themselves in front of the world. That sort of thing should be done in private. When you have something to say, say it. I don’t think anyone will hear whether I’m really going to direct a film or not until I actually have the project, put it together and am ready to go. Then I’ll talk about it.”

Certainly until April 30, Ford has a full-time job, and he will continue in a manner reflective of his role as creative director for Gucci Group. To wit, his trip to L.A. has been more about fashion than anything else. In addition to Sunday night’s Walk of Style, last week he oversaw his final Gucci campaign shoot. He will do the same this week for Yves Saint Laurent, as well as monitor Monday’s fall trunk show at the Gucci boutique on Rodeo Drive.

“I’m here promoting this brand,” he said. “We built this event around a trunk show. All the clothes are here. Trunk shows are so important to get an early reading on the season, and I want Gucci to sell as much as they can for the fall. It’s still something that I worked on.”

But it’s hard to avoid talk of Hollywood, and that proverbial fashion-celebrity connection. Take the Oscars — why so bland, Stan? Because, according to Ford, actresses now call the style shots to a phenomenal degree. “Some celebrities call designers and tell them exactly what they want to wear to the Oscars,” he said. “If you say, ‘No, I’m not going to make that for you,’ they go and wear something else.”

While he would like to see celebrities take more red-carpet risks, he understands their approach. “In a way we have become the costume department for Hollywood,” he explained. “As individual celebrities have driven their careers in the way that they produce a film, direct a film, completely control a film and finance a film, they also need a certain costume to fit the image that they are wanting to portray. They turn to fashion designers for that.”

While refusal to design a star’s dress on artistic grounds may ring lofty, Ford has learned that it can result in the old “biting your nose” effect. One year a nominee made a very specific request, one he didn’t think meshed with Gucci’s aesthetic. “She went to another designer, had it made, ended up winning the Oscar and the picture went everywhere. I thought to myself, ‘I should have probably tried to figure out a way to do that and make it a Gucci dress.’ It was a lesson.”

The Oscars, he said, are not about insider fashion, and the fashionista set should get a grip on that and move on. “Those girls are dressing for a different reason than you might dress if you went to a party. They are dressing for a mass consumption,” he said. And despite the well-publicized and ever-increasing girth of that mass audience, “The most important thing is to look thin.”

Of course, not all indicators of the link between fashion and Hollywood are as grand as the Oscars — such as the Walk of Style. Ford considers the award “a great honor,” especially given his love for Los Angeles and the inspirational role the city and his own notions of movie-star glamour have played in his career. Asked if the whole concept of the Walk is not a bit corny, he offered a hearty, So what? He voiced appreciation that the Rodeo Drive Committee chose to cite him and that a healthy roundup of friends would turn out for the event.

Besides, permanence has its allure, especially in the fleeting world of fashion. “Come on, who doesn’t want their name embedded in the concrete sidewalk,” Ford laughed, “while you’re still alive to see it? And to see Japanese tourists having their picture taken with your name in the sidewalk! I think it’s great. So, corny or not, I think it’s kind of cool.”

So, too, is the warmth he has been met with by Hollywood types on hearing of his desire to direct. For example, Chris Weitz, who’s currently working on the film “Synergy” with his brother Paul, starring Scarlett Johansson and Dennis Quaid, invited Ford to the set, “just to watch everything and get comfortable” in such a setting. But then, the designer finds that kind of graciousness typical. “Even supposed rivals, when they see each other at a party, seem to be quite warm,” he said. “There seems to be a camaraderie in this industry, but I don’t know — I’m completely an outsider.”

But not for long, if his Hollywood pals have anything to say about it.

Many were among the 800 who rendezvoused Sunday for a street party, 90210-style, when Ford was honored with the Walk of Style. He’s the second designer after Giorgio Armani last September to receive the honor, created by the Rodeo Drive Committee and the city of Beverly Hills to salute style legends for their contributions to the worlds of fashion and entertainment. With Ford in career-change mode, the committee moved fast to literally cement his legacy.

Sunday’s event filled the street and stretched a city block between the Gucci and YSL flagships Ford personally designed and opened in recent years. High walls were erected and thick carpet laid out — all in inky black, of course — over a two-day period for the late-night induction event. But an hour before the guests began pouring in, Ford, in a velvet suit jacket and open-neck white shirt, dropped down on his left knee for a photo op (which he had to repeat four times down the entire length of the black carpet) to accept the brass plaque that will be cemented into the Rodeo Drive sidewalk. Engraved on it are his words: “Beauty is a powerful thing. It can add enormously to the quality of life.”

So can a good party, and the man of the night soon welcomed such guests as Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, Heather Graham and Chris Weitz, Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, Kate Beckinsale, Lucy Liu, Amber Tamblyn, Christina Applegate, Portia di Rossi, Shiva Rose McDermott, and Shannen Doherty.

Like all Hollywood award events worth their Perrier-Jouet, the induction into the Walk of Style involves a trophy, and Friends of Tom Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks did their best George and Gracie in presenting the Robert Graham-designed maquette. “Woo!” yelled Richard Buckley from mid-crowd, leading others around him in several more rounds of howling. Of the other Tom in her life, a bespangled Wilson later told WWD her designer pal has “got a wicked sense of humor and the fashion world will be at a loss with him gone.” At least she’s stocked up on his last collection.

Thanking everyone from the mayor to the Hankses, Ford added that Graham deserved the most gratitude: “…having been lucky enough in my career as a fashion designer to receive a few awards, most of them are something you want to put in the closet. This is an incredibly beautiful statue,” he said, holding up the nude female torso that constitutes the maquette and the large statue that also now marks the start of Rodeo. Ford then introduced “the original G.G., Miss Gloria Gaynor,” who went right into her 1971 breakout hit, “Never Can Say Goodbye.”

“Who’s she?” Jewel mouthed to her cowboy hat-and-boot-decked boyfriend, rodeo star Ty Murray.

Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon and Heather Graham knew better, and they showed their appreciation by strutting onto the raised dance floor. “You know, I should be jealous of this guy,” mused Graham’s beau, director Chris Weitz. “I keep hearing Tom Ford this, Tom Ford that. She can’t get enough of Tom, Tom, Tom.”

Like everyone else, the question on the lips of out-of-towners Hope Atherton and Sandra Bernhard, in town to finish taping a pilot for UPN called “Silverlake,” was whether Ford will soon be joining their Tinseltown ranks. “Actually, the question really is,” demanded Bernhard, “‘What’s in it for me?’ Unless he wants me to write for him, I’d better get a place in front of the camera.”

Cheryl Tiegs, wrapped in a Gucci fur chub on the balmy night (temperatures soared to 92 during the day), purred that she’d “do anything Tom wanted. Everybody has a crush on Tom, whether you’re a man or a woman.” Robert Downey Jr. wasn’t afraid to admit it either. “I’d love to be in one of his movies. You know he’d definitely make me look good.”

Of course, knowing Ford’s self-avowed love for control, some saw filmmaking as a way to get him back to the design boards. “I’m in as long as he does the costuming,” insisted Angie Harmon. “You know, at the news of him leaving fashion, depression set in and I was on suicide watch for a while,” she deadpanned. “Now I’m OK. I know he has to move on.”

Di Rossi was similarly distraught. “I’m just mourning the loss of Tom Ford right now,” she whimpered, taking another sip of a yellowy cocktail. “Seriously, though, he’s told stories through fashion for so long, he’ll probably be very successful in directing. I just can’t wear his movies!”

Hanging out nearby, Mischa Barton didn’t hesitate over what kind of role she’d want in Ford’s first film. “Some amazing charismatic woman from another era. You know, this is not a sad occasion at all, but a time to celebrate the future.”

Moore said she certainly wouldn’t mind working with her friend, but Kutcher offered a more zen alternative — at least for the time being. “I think he should take time to live well and to help other people live well. But I’m the last person who should be giving Tom Ford advice.”

And as Gaynor ended her disco torch trilogy with “I Will Survive,” just like that, rose petals shot high over the crowd like so much confetti at a New Year’s Eve bash — or one of Ford’s last runway shows. Val Kilmer looked a little perplexed as pink and white petals rained down on him at the bar. Minding the floral cue, DJ Angola, flown in from New York, slipped right into a hip-hop mix.

At the VIP salon upstairs at the Gucci store, the rap scene was more of the chatting variety, although rocker Anthony Keidis threatened to shake things up a bit. “I’m here to raise some Cain!” he yelled, throwing both fists up in the air.

Mario Testino raised it all right, but it was an actual wooden stick he was using to help him get around following a fall 10 days ago that left him with a broken ankle — just days before he was set to shoot the Gucci campaign here at a La Brea Avenue studio. “So stupid. I want to be them right now,” he said, watching a pack of boys — lead by Lisa Eisner’s younger son Louis, decked in mom’s white Gucci suit and GG-covered shirt — dart through the party.

Testino wasn’t the only lensman to join in the celebrations. Bruce Weber was there, and David LaChapelle arrived super late with L.A.’s on-again, off-again, now-on-again soul mates, the Lees. “I want Tom to do a remake of ‘Barbarella,’” said Anderson. “I want to see ‘Toperella,’” shot back Lee. If it’s going to be typecasting, LaChapelle chimed in his bid: “In Tom’s movie, I’d play a mad photographer.”

The one local who didn’t have Hollywood on the brain, however, was Ford’s sister Jennifer Davis, who lives in a Los Angeles suburb. The one goal she has in mind for her brother — at least for the coming months — involves something she joked could prove his biggest challenge yet. “I hope he’ll learn to sleep. Tom never sleeps. Hopefully living here in L.A., he’ll finally get some sleep.”

— With contributions from Rose Apodaca Jones

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