om Ford was born in Austin, Texas in 1962, but spent most of his childhood years back in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His mother was a colorful Southern lady who had 6 husbands and a cupboard full of Courreges suits. She taught him that being badly dressed was disrespectful of others. He spent most of his childhood worrying about how he looked. At 12 she bought him a pair of Gucci loafers.
Tom Ford enrolled on an art history course at New York University and was also trained as an actor. It was there he discovered the seminal Studio 54 nightclub and Warhol’s Factory, where he met pop artist Andy Warhol for the first time. From then on, school was out and partying was in, in, in. Signing up as a model – at one point he had no fewer than 12 TV commercials running at the same time – he dropped out of NYU after his freshman year. Tom Ford transferred to Parsons School of Design in New York studying interior architecture. He later moved on to finish his studies at Parsons in Paris, France. By the end of the course Ford realised he wanted to work in fashion. As soon as he completed his studies in 1986, Ford quickly returned to New York where he began his professional training.
In 1986, he joined the creative staff of the American famous designer Cathy Hardwick. Then, in 1988, a big career move came up when he made the transition to Perry Ellis where he took on the position of Design Director under Marc Jacobs. Tom didn’t make a name for himself in the business until he relocated to Europe in 1990 and landed a position with Gucci. Tom’s partner, journalist Richard Buckley, had become ill with cancer and, after he was given the all-clear at the start of the Nineties, the two decided to leave the stress of New York behind and head for Italy.
Ford was hired by Gucci’s then creative director Dawn Mello (previous head of purchase with Bergdorf-Goodman) as chief women’s ready-to-wear designer. A few years passed, and in 1992, he moved up the corporate ladder of the fashion world and once again took on the role of Design Director. Business went bad for Gucci and Tom Ford was almost fired by Maurizio Gucci in 1993, but this was counteracted by Domenico de Sole, director of Gucci America Inc.
When, in 1994, Gucci was acquired by a Bahrain-based investment firm called Investcorp, Ford was promoted to creative director. This meant that he was responsible for the design and conception of all product lines within the company; clothing, perfumes, and more. He also had to create and carry through the company’s image, its advertising campaigns and store design. Tom Ford went on to become arguably the most influential designer of the last decade.
In his first year at the helm, he was credited with putting the glamour back into fashion introducing Halston-style velvet hipsters, skinny satin shirts and car-finish metallic patent boots. Gucci became a byword for desirability, offering the most aspirational and hedonistic kind of fashion.
In 1995, he brought in French stylist Carine Roitfeld and photographer Mario Testino to create a series of new, modern ad campaigns for the company. In March 1995 when Amber Valletta sauntered down the catwalk in blue velvet hipsters and a skinny apple-green satin shirt, the lights went on in the house of Gucci. She personified Gucci glamour, dangerous, sexy, modern and slightly rough. Madonna wore his outfit to the MTV music awards.