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.