Instant Fashion — you know, buy-now-wear-now — it’s on everybody’s mind as New York Fashion Week gets under way. Tom Ford is on the bandwagon in the most elegant way. Tonight he will host what could be the event of the week, an intimate (by fashion standards) dinner-party-cum-fashion show at the former Four Seasons restaurant. The soiree will start with cocktails, end with entertainment by Leon Bridges and feature a host of models who will join the festivities postshow. “So many great, gorgeous new girls right now. I had no idea,” Ford says.
Fresh from the dazzling reception at the Venice Film Festival for his second film, “Nocturnal Animals,” on Tuesday morning Ford broke from fittings to discuss his show, the production values of which will set the bar sky-high for live-streams; his dual career, and how his approach to fashion has changed with age – he’s “less desperate about it” than when he ws younger. As for Fast Fashion, he’ll pass, thank you. These days, he only wants to make clothes that will last. His new criteria: “Am I proud of it? Is it beautiful?…Is someone going to collect this?…If it’s just a dumb blouse, who cares?”
Tom Ford: Congratulations? For Venice?
WWD: Yes, for Venice, for the reviews.
T.F.: Yes, the great reviews.
WWD: What are you feeling?
T.F.: Of course, I was thrilled. It’s very odd when you get a 10- or 15-minute standing ovation. You don’t quite know what to do, you just sort of stand there. But I was thrilled, I was really thrilled and the reviews have been great. That was great. You never know when you work on a film; I had screened it for groups of 15 or 20 people a few times while I was working on it, but you get so inside of it.
WWD: Did you know it was so good?
T.F.: You never really know because you’re inside it so much I mean, you know, you have a feeling just like you have a feeling about a collection down a runway. So even had the reviews been bad, I would have felt good about it. I still would have beaten myself up with bad reviews and questioned every decision and have been very depressed. I think anyone that says they don’t care is not telling the truth. So I felt good about it.
WWD: Did you really feel that there was no way that it could get bad reviews?
T.F.: No, you never know that there’s no way it can get bad reviews. I feel it’s strong. It’s very strong, strong opening, strong ending, it’s strong. I think you couldn’t leave it, I hope, not feeling something.
WWD: Is the Los Angeles/Texas thing coincidence?
T.F.: No, I wrote it that way on purpose. In the book we’re in Maine and somewhere in the Midwest or the Northeast. I believe in writing what you know, so I wrote the worlds that I’m from and inhabit into the story. You have to make things personal. I changed quite a lot from the book. Because the book is an interior monologue, I had to create scenes and films of visual media. I had to create scenes to know what the character was feeling and I also exaggerated her feelings to make the theme clearer because in the book, it’s quite subtle and very long and you couldn’t do that in two hours. I had to exaggerate certain things.
WWD: Did you plan to take shots at the L.A. art world?
T.F.: It wasn’t taking shots at the L.A. art world. It was taking shots at our contemporary culture. It’s just where we are culturally.
WWD: Where are we in terms of creativity in the culture?
T.F.: I think we’ve become quite hollow, culturally. I think unfortunately, culturally we’re reaping what we’ve sown with Donald Trump. I think the dumbing down of American culture is yielding the possibility for someone like Donald Trump, who is living in a post-factual era and no one seems to care. It’s a sort of giant television reality show. Is that too strong?
WWD: Not at all. Back to you, are you a new kind of creator, sort of a cross-platform creator — film and fashion?
T.F.: They’re totally separate things for me. Of course, I contribute to this mass consumer culture that the character in my film is lost in it and lost by it and is a victim of it. [But] because we’re going after things that actually have nothing to do with the film.
WWD: Is there a connection between visual storytelling in a film and on a runway?
T.F.: Very, very, different things. You can’t tell a story with the level of depth on the runway that you can in a film, and it doesn’t last on a runway. Even if years later you look back at the clothes, you can say, “wow, I remember that,” “that’s beautiful,” “look at the workmanship.” But you don’t have the rush that you had the very first time you saw it. There is a bit of a jolt when you see something new that once you become accustomed to it, the jolt fades and when you look back at it, you can have nostalgia for the jolt, but you don’t feel the jolt. And jolt is not a very good word.
Whereas in film, you can watch a film and you’re so pulled into the world that you start crying again. The emotions that are captured in that.…Creatively perhaps I’m more satisfied with creating film because of the permanence; you’re creating something that really lasts forever and ever and ever. Which is also one of the reasons that fashion is fun, because you move through it; it moves at a much quicker pace.
WWD: There’s also something wonderful about the ephemeral nature of a great fashion show. You experience it in the moment, and over for good.
T.F.: It’s like a performance on stage; it can’t ever be repeated. And if you film a stage play, it’s usually dull. That’s why sometimes when you film a fashion show, it can’t capture what was in the room, it can’t capture that energy.
WWD: Tell me about tomorrow night’s show.
T.F.: The weird thing is, I designed it six months ago.
WWD: Did you design new pieces for the runway?
T.F.: No! Every single thing was designed as if I was presenting in London during fashion week [last season]. I had to because our buyers came. Buyers from the stores signed a non-disclosure agreement about it – Bergdorf’s, Neimans, blah blah blah. They came to the showroom at the regular time. The whole collection, down to every shoe, every accessory — done. [For the show] I’m locked into those looks. The only thing I can change is the hair and the makeup.
WWD: Which you’ve always said can really change a show.
T.F.: It can. The hair and the makeup, that’s it. Luckily, I still really like it, so that’s good. There’s that risk when you do it and you put it away for six months….
WWD: Going back to something you finished six months ago, did you find it at all tiresome?
T.F.: I think because I hadn’t been looking at it and I hadn’t seen it in magazines, I hadn’t had it exposed and I hadn’t already shot the campaign, so I wasn’t tired of it. But it is sort of funny. Yesterday, I was like, “oh this is weird, so we’ll change that for production.” But it’s already in all the stores! Oh, we can’t change that. Oh, OK!
What was different is sometimes when you design a new collection, you’ll think, “oh, we’ll only sell four or five of these, but the color is important and it’s great for editorial and we need it.” I like that it becomes pointless and useless when you’re designing a collection to click and buy, so I actually think it could help fashion. I don’t know who else is going to do this other than Burberry and a few other people. If it were to jump into the real industry, I think it could help take fashion back from a spectator sport — which it is to a lot of people — into something that actually impacts their lives. I think pre-collections used to be those kind of great basics that women wanted, but now that everyone is showing them, they’ve become sort of amped-up in a show way. So, I just don’t know. All I can say is for me, it felt right and it felt exciting and it felt new.
WWD: So the collection is all set for retail?
T.F.: It’s downstairs. It’s in all of our stores all over the world, it hasn’t been put out. The windows will flip tomorrow night, all of the windows, all over the world. And we’ll flip to the merchandise. This whole store will flip to that merchandise, every store we have all over the world.
WWD: All systems are go.
T.F.: It’s downstairs, hanging and being steamed. Tomorrow night, all of this [remaining spring/summer] stuff will go whoop and all of the new stuff will go in. We have shot it for online already. We’ve shot every single piece, the price, whatever, the 360-degree turn, it’s all online. Plus, there’s the cosmetic lip launching, a fragrance that’s new for this, eyewear, all of it. All launching tomorrow.
WWD: Are you concerned that you’re the only high-end designer in New York doing this?
T.F.: Maybe, I just don’t know. We’ll have to see if it works. Oddly, it’s what I tried to do and I don’t think anyone understood it in 2010.
The reason I had a press blackout was that I wanted all the merchandise to be fresh when it hit the stores. I didn’t want it to be overexposed. I didn’t want anyone to have seen it other than long-lead press. This time, well, I don’t have any long-lead press because no one is photographing it. Now, that’s going to be weird going forward: How do I keep the brand visible when I have no clothes to send to magazines?
WWD: I think most people are planning to show long-lead press in advance, or did, in the spring when you showed retailers. You didn’t?
T.F.: No, I didn’t.
WWD: Would you?
T.F.: I don’t know. That sort of ruins it because then stylists see it, it’s on the set. What happens, too, by the way, is that some stylist takes a piece and puts it on an actress, or is doing something in a magazine and then there your clothes end up. And the photographer sees it, hair and makeup people see it. Everybody sees it.
WWD: Everybody’s got a phone.
T.F.: So no, I don’t think so.
WWD: Do you think of yourself as a renegade? You did the 2010 show, the controversial appointments in London, L.A.
T.F.: I think of myself as just doing what I think feels right at the moment. I don’t think, “Oh, I want to be a renegade. What can I do?”
WWD: Last season, you did the video. Would you do that again?
T.F.: It was both — we got so many hits from that video. I think it was a little hard to see the clothes. You know, they’re moving and dancing around.
WWD: So how important is the show?
T.F.: We will see. The purpose of this show — it’s going to be done like a television show almost. It’s to get an audience to tune in online and watch. And so, celebrities are important; you have to have things to photograph. People have to tune in to see what you’re showing, who’s there. Then you need everyone tweeting and Instagramming. It’s all about social media and it needs to create that kind of excitement. If you think about it, it does sort of make sense because you spend several million dollars — even for tomorrow, which is just a dinner party — several million dollars to show these things. [Under the traditional system], you do it five months before they hit the store, whereas now, we’re doing a promotional spend, but it’s here now.
WWD: How important is social media to your customer?
T.F.: Rihanna wears a pair of our shoes and sends it out, it absolutely it matters. Absolutely. More and more and more and more.
WWD: Let’s talk about the timing. Even you — could not have orchestrated Venice back-to-back with New York Fashion Week.
T.F.: I did. I mean I didn’t schedule Venice but…
WWD: Did you choose to premiere there to make this a big double-launch season for you?
T.F.: No, I would have premiered at Venice anyway and figured out the fashion show if it hadn’t fit. I would’ve done it in Paris or done it next week or two weeks from now, in Milan.
WWD: To come into fashion week riding so high…
T.F.: Well, I could’ve come in riding low, you never know. I’m all about schedule; it’s all been scheduled for a year. In order for me to shoot a film, I have to schedule it a year in advance. The window that I have every year is the fall. After this show, I have nothing until men’s, which is in January. So I can always shoot a movie in the fall, but that’s it — that’s the only time. So both movies were shot in exactly the same time slot.
WWD: Do you have a plan for the next one? One reviewer said, “I hope he doesn’t wait another seven years.”
T.F.: I hope I don’t have to wait seven years, but I can’t tell you what I’m going to do next until I let go of this one and until after Toronto. You know, there are a few more premieres. We just finished the trailer 10 days ago; I just finished the posters last week. I’ve got so many interviews set up for the film. It’s not finished.
WWD: You said that film is fun and more lasting. Are you still as interested in fashion as ever?
T.F.: [Long pause.] I know, the pause says it…I’m very interested in fashion. I think I’m less desperate about fashion. I think that comes with age. When you’re 20, you try on 20 different T-shirts before you go out, and one of them wins the award and you wear it and you can see the difference between all 20. To someone 55, they’re T-shirts, and there might be two or three that look good; you don’t need to try on 20. So I love fashion but I think maybe at this point I’m moving more into style than fashion. I still want to make things that are very beautiful and that I’m proud of. I don’t want to make anything that I’m not proud of. But I’m less desperate about it. That’s probably not a good answer.
WWD: It’s an excellent answer. Are you less desperate as a creator of fashion?
T.F.: I’m as passionate about creating, but I’m creating different things and my criteria are different.
WWD: What are your criteria now for creating a collection?
T.F.: Am I proud of it? Is it beautiful?
WWD: Weren’t those points always your criteria?
T.F.: Yes. It was, “Am I proud of it, and is it the absolute latest thing that will blow everyone away?” Instead of, “Am I proud of this? Is this piece going to be on eBay one day, selling for $50,000? Or is someone going to collect this? If they’re not, out.”
T.F.: Absolutely. Is this just a dumb blouse? If it’s just a dumb blouse, who cares? Is this something that’s worth investing in? Are you going to wear it 20 years from now? Yes. I think about that.
WWD: Tell me about the show.
T.F.: One-hundred-eighty people. A dinner party. It’s cocktails. I’ll be out during cocktails, because guess what? The collection is done. So, a good group of people, fun. I want everyone to drink. I want everyone to have a good time. It’s at the Four Seasons restaurant, which is closed, which we’re reopening for tomorrow night, it’s drinks and then dinner.
WWD: Not the old staff?
T.F.: We’re having it catered because there’s no kitchen right now. We re-carpeted it. I will not be there during dinner because I’ll have to go backstage to make sure everything looks great. As soon as dinner goes away, out come the clothes. It’s not a normal runway. We’ve boxed over the fountain. There are more looks than I usually show because it’s men’s and women’s, 55 looks. The models look great. I’m so happy I found so many great, new models.
WWD: Lot of new girls?
T.F.: Oh yeah. Gorgeous. So many great, gorgeous new girls right now. I had no idea. We were just casting yesterday and the day before; we’re fitting today and tomorrow. Mostly today. Then after that, dinner goes away, the show happens, dessert goes down and as dessert goes down, Leon Bridges is going to go out and set up and sing three songs, and that will be the evening. The girls are going to join the dinner part after the show. Sit down, have drinks, watch Leon Bridges. It’s being filmed, and the guy directing it directs award shows.
There are so many cameras in that room, on jibs, still cameras, steady cams, right down to the audience reactions, paparazzi cameras, because the whole thing is being edited live — “cut to camera three,” “cut to camera two,” “cut to camera one,” just as though it’s a television show. It’s live-streaming. Because that’s what it’s about — producing something that people want to tune in and watch. Right after that, the site goes up with all the clothes that we’ve already photographed, every single thing on a model, moving, slow it down, spin in -360 — da da da da. Fabric. Price. Buy. Shopping cart. It all just goes immediately.
WWD: Is this your long-term solution — an intimate, in-season show?
T.F.: In February, we’re going to do the Oscars again, runway. A runway show on the Friday before the Oscars.
WWD: I mean the idea of keeping it small but with immediate consumer access.
T.F.: I do right now. But you have to sense what feels right in the world, so you don’t know.
WWD: So, back to L.A. in February. Do you think that’s the future of fashion – being a little peripatetic?
T.F.: I think so.
WWD: Tell me about the clothes.
T.F.: They’re chic.
WWD: Is that the most important thing, to be collectible, special and chic?
WWD: We started out with you mentioning the dumbing down of the culture. Do you think there’s any going back?
T.F.: I hope so. But no, I don’t think so. If Hillary is elected, maybe.
WWD: How so?
T.F.: I don’t think that’s there’s a retreat…but perhaps as lives become more and more transparent, perhaps being a good person — maybe that will also be transparent
WWD: An interesting thought to end on, being a good person.
T.F.: Everyone will know everything that you’re doing, how you shop, what you do, where you go. Everything is very transparent, filmed from every angle. So maybe you’ll want to be a good person, since everyone is going to know whether you’re a good person or a bad person. I don’t know.