Tom Ford’s medium for the last 30 years has been the runway, and no one is better at controlling the lighting, the mood, the makeup, the hair. Because of that incredible sense of control and illusion — the illusion of glossy perfection — Ford seldom reveals anything about himself through the production. We don’t really know what he’s thinking or feeling from season to season. He’s simply the master behind the curtain.
So it’s striking that this time, without a runway show, without even a video, Ford has dropped his protective cover. His feelings runneth over. Last night, on the CFDA’s Runway360 website, he revealed not only the images of his spring men’s and women’s lineup but also a 973-word statement. It began rather breezily (“The Coronavirus pandemic was in full swing”) and included details about his life in Los Angeles during the lockdown. “I had been wearing the same dirty jeans, jeans shirt, tee shirt and trainers for weeks,” he confessed. “I had not left the house in months. I was irritated when I had a Zoom meeting because it meant washing my hair and perhaps trimming my beard … I felt that honestly fashion should simply go into hibernation for a year.”
He went on to note that he watched a lot of TV, in particular old movies on TCM and a “mind-numbing constant stream” of HGTV shows where “the solution to all of life’s problems seems to be about ‘blowing out a wall’ and creating ‘an island’ in the kitchen.” Quite simply, he added, “I found myself wanting to escape.”
And I thought that’s what Ford has been telling us since the mid-1990s, when he blew up Gucci and started renovating.
Seriously, though, Ford’s latest work is fascinating on several levels. First, it reveals a star designer, a workaholic, suddenly at sixes and sevens. He can’t go to the office. His sample rooms are shut down. In other words, he’s not himself. To me, that’s touching.
Second, it shows Ford striving for a creative lifeline, a way to feed his imagination — which he finds while watching a recent documentary of the illustrator Antonio Lopez: “I was the most inspired by the smiles of the models from the ’70s like Pat Cleveland or Donna Jordan.” Lopez’s vivid palette and energetic drawings also seemed to inspire Ford. The spring clothes are soaked in rich tones of fuchsia and purple, often paired with white, and there are slinky animal-print dresses, easy (but not dull) separates like track pants, and a spree of gorgeous caftans. The designer’s goggle and aviator glasses are bigger than ever.
Finally, the clothes will look great on a rail or a digital platform. In fact, the images reminded me a lot of the late Bill King’s photographs — clear, exuberant, physical. Yet, despite — or perhaps because of — the models’ big smiles, I couldn’t help but detect a sadness, a sadness that probably stems as much from this dreadful year as the fact that Ford is out of his element. Again, his medium is the runway (and movies). At the end of his epistle, he brings up scientists’ predictions of “an apocalyptic winter” and the hope of a vaccine by early 2021, so “we can all perhaps breathe a sigh of relief and begin to return to our lives as we knew them.” That’s not exactly the note with which to announce clothes to “have a bit of fun in.” But it is a designer showing, uncharacteristically, his vulnerability.