Where They Were Then: Tom Ford



Tom Ford has helmed the sort of labels people sing about. See: Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci” and the dozens of rappers who’ve name-dropped YSL. But what’s made the man such a star for 20-plus years? Here, the road from a Texas suburb to a label that bears his name. —callia hargrove

1961 – Tom Ford, Jr. is born on August 27th to a a pair of realtors in Austin, Texas. Favorite childhood pastime? Re-arranging his parents’ furniture, Ty Pennington-style.

1975 – Tom and his mom Shirley relocate to Santa Fe when he’s 11. Early on, she teaches him that “being badly dressed is disrespectful to others.” Taking his self-presentation seriously, at 14 gives himself a cucumber eye-treatment…only to discover he’s allergic, resulting in a dramatic trip to the ER.

1979 – At the ripe old age of 16, Tom leaves home to attend Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Massachusetts. New England isn’t doing it for him, and he heads to NYU to study Art History. But that doesn’t really cut it either: He drops out and heads to Hollywood to become an actor. At one point, he has 12 TV commercials on the air at the same time.

1983 – After making some bank, Tom heads back to NYC to study architecture at Parsons. He balances studying with partying at the legendary Studio 54. The summer prior to his senior year, he interns at Chloé in Paris and is so inspired that he spends his last year studying fashion (but still matriculates with an Interior Architecture degree).

1985 – After graduation, Tom looks for his big fashion break, calling sportswear designer Cathy Hardwick every day for two months begging for an interview. It took a little BSing—so what that he graduated with an architecture degree and was just an intern at Chloé?—but he lands the job and works as her assistant for two years.

1986 – In a totally Romeo and Romeo tale, he meets Richard Buckley in the elevator at a fashion show. The two quickly become an item. Oh, P.S., Richard just so happens to be the fashion editor at WWD.

1988 – Tom heads to Perry Ellis, where one of his good friends from Studio 54, Marc Jacobs, is designing. He stays there for 2 years and then ditches the U.S. for Milan.

1990 – Gucci, in a dark period, is looking for someone to revamp its women’s ready-to-wear. Taking a major leap of faith, bigwig creative director Dawn Melo hires the virtually unknown Tom, who draws inspo from his Texan grandmas to bring a fresh spin to the dying brand.

1992 – Bam! Like a boss, Tom makes his mark—and starts doing more, more, MORE, designing menswear, creating fragrances, overseeing advertising, and even doing the interiors of all of Gucci’s stores. So, yes, that college education paid off.

1995 – Since Tom began his reign, sales at Gucci are up by 90%, and LVMH sees a huge opportunity. They acquire the house, and, by the end of 1999, the once-flailing brand is bringing in earnings of $4.3 billion.  

1997 – Oh, he’s as good-looking as he is talented? People names Tom one of its 50 most beautiful people and makes it official.

1999 – Gucci just isn’t enough for Tom, ever the over-achiever. Under his leadership, the Gucci group acquires Yves Saint Laurent (yes, back when we were allowed to use the “Yves”). Ultimate seal of approval: After his first show for YSL, Tom’s mom is heard demanding a discount on the collection. 

2001 – In his first bout with controversy, Tom creative-directs the ad campaign for Gucci’s new fragrance, Opium, starring redhead Sophie Dahl, who’s completely naked—well, you know, except for a necklace and sky-high stilettos. It’s banned in pretty much every country…but paves the way for other infamous Gucci ads. That same year, Tom nabs awards from the CFDA, GQ, and TIME mag.

2002 – Drama in the house. After the acquisition, Tom and the YSL team begin butting heads. Tom peaces out.

2003 – In the most shocking fashion announcement of the year, Tom reveals that he’s leaving the Gucci group. DVF, Valentino, Oscar de la Renta, Karl Lagerfeld, and Stella McCartney attend his final show for YSL. That’s some mad designer respect.

2005 – Striking out on his own, Tom Ford launches his eponymous label. His first project: a collabo with Estée Lauder to create his own cosmetics line. Ladies go nuts for his super-luxe (and, ok, insanely expensive) lipsticks.

2006 – Vanity Fair asks Tom to guest-edit its Hollywood issue. His cover concept: Keira Knightley, Scarlett Johansson, and Rachel McAdams nekkid. Rachel McAdams nixes the idea, and Tom replaces her with…himself.

2009 – Undergoing, as he puts it, the “ultimate design project” of his life, he co-writes and directs his debut film, A Single Man, earning Colin Firth an Oscar nomination and winning an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay.

2010 – He MCs the presentation for his first Tom Ford women’s collection himself—and is overheard telling Queen Bey that she had definitely turned him straight.

2012 – This year is all about the leading men. Tom provides all of Daniel Craig’s costumes for the latest Bond, designs JT’s wardrobe for his “Suit & Tie” comeback, and welcomes a little bundle of joy named Alexander into his life.

2013 – A record number of U.S. buyers travel across the pond just to see T.F.’s first show in London Town—an indicator of just how major his influence on the fashion industry is.

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