By KATE BETTS
Since April 2005, when he announced his licensing deal with Estée Lauder for a beauty and fragrance line, Tom Ford has been building his eponymous brand, adding to it sunglasses and menswear. Just one year into the launch of his menswear label — what co-founder and chairman Domenico De Sole says will become a $1 billion brand — Ford has already opened shops in New York City and, most recently, Milan and plans to expand globally, with more than 100 freestanding stores over the next 10 years. In phone conversations and e-mail messages, Ford talks to TIME's Kate Betts about his midlife crisis, Barack Obama's style and whether he will venture back into the women's-wear business.
You're the kind of guy who always has a plan. You always ask, What's your 10-year plan? So I'm going to ask you, Now that your menswear business is up and running, what's your 10-year plan?My 10-year plan now is very different from what my 10-year plan was 10 years ago. There's a nice quote I came across a while ago that says, "Midlife is when you get to the top of a ladder only to realize you've had the ladder against the wrong wall." Now, that probably happened to me a few years ago — meaning when I left Gucci.
A lot of what has driven my life was coming to not necessarily a midlife crisis, because I was very happy with everything that I had accomplished, but maybe a sort of midlife lack of fulfillment in certain ways, and it redirected my life — redirected my business life by making me understand that work wasn't really about making money, getting ahead. You know, all the things that we're taught as kids. But work should really be something that you love to do, and through this I realized all along I had been working because I liked to design things. I like the challenge of it. So I realized that.
Then I tried to think about how I can do this where I take away all the parts that I don't like, such as waking up in the morning and having to read the review in the [International] Herald Tribune about whether the collection was good or bad. I hate all that stuff. I really hate it. I really like making the product. But believe it or not, I don't like talking to journalists. I don't like posing for pictures. I don't like all the stuff that's now around fashion. I still do it because it's part of my business — you've got to communicate to the customer. Before I was driven by "Be successful, be successful, be successful." It was a different kind of drive from what I feel now.
So my 10-year plan now is kind of spiritual. Now you're really going to think I've lost my mind! My 10-year plan now is more focused on my personal relationships, my personal life, my family. It's a different phase of my development. It's focused on business too. It's focused on things like making movies, which I'm not going to make any money doing, but it's creatively something that excites me and fuels my mind. With relationship to my men's business, I did what I did out of a real need, a niche in the market, something that I personally wanted. People always say to me, "Why don't you do women's clothes? You would make so much more money." Well, that's great, but I'm not sure I want to do that. I may do it. I'm creeping back slowly, and I have a few new products that I'm going to start working on in the next year.
In terms of menswear, why did you choose to go to the very high end, with the most formal kind of menswear?Because again, I'm making things that I care about. I just really don't care about certain types of clothes and, to be honest, certain types of customers who wear those types of clothes. I just don't care. So I'm making clothes that interest me, which means the best detail, the best fabric, the best quality. I'm interested in dressing people who relate to that, understand that and appreciate that.
You know, a lot of people don't actually see — they don't see detail. And I'm just not interested in dressing those people. So by their nature, those clothes do tend to be expensive when they're made with the most beautiful materials and in the most beautiful way. I wear formal clothes most of the time, but I will be broadening the collection. There will be things that are less formal, starting with skiwear. We're opening a ski shop in St. Moritz, and I'm broadening the collection to include a lot more sportswear.
The way you talk about your business and your plans for Tom Ford in the future, opening in markets like Dubai and Russia, makes you sound more like a CEO than a designer. Do you think of yourself now as more of a CEO?I do both. I mean I am the ceo and the president [along with co-founder and chairman De Sole], but I'm still totally and completely a designer. I fit every single thing on my own body. I was always a little bit like that. I don't know if people really knew that. People would write occasionally about it, but I don't think anyone really knew the extent to which I was involved in our business. I couldn't just design in a vacuum. I'd have to think, "O.K., where's this going to be sold? Who is going to buy it? What's the market for it?" It all sort of happens together, at the same time, in my head.
Who are you designing for now?I'm designing for me or men like me from ages 25 to 75. I'm designing for an urban customer, a customer who is aware, men who are very appreciative of details and quality and style and cut and who want to look slim. I mean, everything about my clothes makes you look skinnier. You look skinnier and taller. Those are just things that are important to me. It was always the same with women's too, by the way. I could never make clothes that made a woman look fat, and that's why everyone always said, "Everything he does is about sex, sex, sex." No. I take a body and try to accentuate the things about it that, by our beauty standard, we would appreciate and hide the things that we don't appreciate, and I do the same with men's. So I want to make sure my butt looks good. I want to make sure my thighs look good. I want to make sure my legs look longer. I want to make sure that my waist is in the right spot. You know, proportion is really important.
What is so important in menswear about dressing James Bond? Why did you go after Daniel Craig?We did not actually go after Daniel Craig. I had met him a few times in London and offered to dress him, as I think he is very handsome and has a terrific sense of style and a wonderful presence. Since we had been making clothes for him, when it came time for him to do the new Bond film, he asked us to dress him. I could not have been happier, as Bond is an iconic character to dress. Often people think that if you dress in a classic manner, you are dull and live a quiet life. James Bond lives exactly the opposite life. He is the perfect Tom Ford man in that respect.
Who else would you like to see wearing Tom Ford?I really have been fortunate enough to dress most of the people in the world that I have wanted to dress. I think that Prince Harry would be great to dress, as he has a great look.
What about Barack Obama?Who would not want to dress Obama? I must say that I think he looks great already — simple, clean, understated and always appropriate. He is naturally elegant [as is his wife]. The way he walks and moves is just right. Too much fashion for a presidential candidate would be wrong. His style is perfectly balanced.
Do you have financial goals for the next 10 years?Yes. We're not making money yet. We're doing very well, and some of our stores are making money. New York is very profitable and making money, but as a whole we've been investing over and over and adding new stores. If we are talking about valuation, then we will reach $1 billion in the next five years. If we are talking about sales, then the 10-year timeline would be correct. Are all the stores owned 100% by you? Or are some of them franchised? No, some of them are franchised in markets where we need partners, like Moscow, for example, and Dubai and Qatar. They are very strict franchise agreements, and they're all the same partners we've worked with before when I was at Gucci, so they know they can't put flowers in the store without it having been run through my office as one of the acceptable types of flowers. So they're very tightly controlled.
Can you give an idea about when you might introduce women's products?I can't tell you for sure. I can tell you I'm thinking about it. I'm thinking about what I'd do with clothes, but the first step would probably be accessories. I'm not sure I'll even do this. It's two to three years away. If I were to do women's wear tomorrow, I'd have to have an atelier and a sewing room to compete at the level I would want to compete at. After that, I'd need an entire separate design team. I would need new offices to house them. I would need new stores. Just logistically and financially, I could not take it on right now either way, and the women's fashion world is so cruel and so brutal that there is no room for error. No one cuts you any slack — ever. It would be too risky for me to even attempt it until I could do it the right way
6 months ago