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Tom Ford: From Fashion To Film With 'A Single Man.'

Tom Ford has put his creative sensibilities to work in the service of a Christopher Isherwood tale: A Single Man, which marks Ford's big-screen directorial debut.

43:41

Other segments from the episode on December 14, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 14, 2009: Interview with Tom Ford; Review of the Museum of Modern Art's show "Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity."

Transcript

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Tom Ford: From Fashion To Film With “A Single Man”

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

After years as a top fashion designer, my guest, Tom Ford, has directed and co-
written his first film, "A Single Man," based on the 1964 novel by Christopher
Isherwood. The movie is on Time magazine's list of the year's 10 best films,
and Entertainment Weekly film critic, Owen Gleiberman, wrote that Ford proves a
born filmmaker with a rapturous eye.

Ford is the former creative director of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, where he
was known for his collections as well his provocative ad campaigns. His movie,
"A Single Man," is set in L.A. in 1962 and stars Colin Firth as George, a
college professor in his 50s whose younger, long-time partners has just been
killed in a car crash. George is so heartbroken, he's buying bullets for his
gun and preparing to kill himself. But as he prepares, he continues to teach
and to confide in his old friend, played by Julianne Moore.

In this scene, from the beginning of "A Single Man," George is getting out of
bed, dressing and preparing for the day. This is what he's thinking.

(Soundbite of film, "A Single Man")

Mr. COLIN FIRTH (Actor): (As George) Waking up begins with saying um and now.

Unidentified woman #1 (Actor): (As character) Jennifer, I am not going to tell
you again...

Mr. FIRTH: (As George) For the past eight months, waking up has actually hurt.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FIRTH: (As George) Cold realization that I'm still here slowly sets in. I
was never terribly fond of waking up. I was never one to jump out of bed and
greet the day with a smile like Jim was. I used to want to punch him sometimes
in the morning, he was so happy. I always used to tell him that only fools
would greet the day with a smile, that only fools could possibly escape the
simple truth that now isn't simply now. It's a cold reminder, one day later
than yesterday, one year later than last year and that sooner or later, it will
come.

He used to laugh at me and then give me a kiss on the cheek. It takes time in
the morning for me to become George, time to adjust to what is expected of
George and how he is to behave. By the time I've dressed and put the final air
of polish on the now slightly stiff but quite perfect George, I know, fully,
what part I'm supposed to play.

GROSS: That's Colin Firth in the opening of "A Single Man." Tom Ford, welcome
to FRESH AIR. Congratulations on the film.

Mr. TOM FORD (Director, "A Single Man"): Thank you.

GROSS: I think one of the things that will surprise people seeing this opening
scene is that we would likely think of you, since fashion is the world that
you're from, as waking up in the morning and thinking oh boy, what fabulous
clothes will I wear today, what fun I will have presenting myself to the outer
world; as opposed to the effort and pain that this character is feeling in
putting himself together to be in the world and present himself to the world.

Mr. FORD: I think a lot of us do that. I think that our public face is often
armor. And this character has held together - his inner world and his outer
world are directly related. He's suffering inside. So what's going on inside
this man is very, very different than what's going on on the outside. And he
feels that if he can just stay in control of everything on the outside and
construct a certain armor that is his public persona, that he will be safe
inside and he'll be able to hold himself together.

And that comes, literally, from the book, where Christopher Isherwood talks
about the fact that if someone called him early in the morning, they wouldn't
know that it was, you know, that it was George. They wouldn't recognize his
voice, that it took him a while to prepare to become the George that was
expected of him.

And so I interpreted it slightly differently in the film, but very much, I
believe, follows the story in the book.

GROSS: In your movie, "A Single Man," George, the main character, is bereft
after his long-time companion dies. And at the beginning of the movie, we get
the point that he's thinking of ending his life.

Mr. FORD: Yes.

GROSS: He has a gun, and he's thinking of suicide. And there's a scene where he
takes his gun, he goes to his bed, fluffs a couple of pillows behind him, puts
the gun in his mouth, realizes the pillows aren't arranged quite right, they're
not quite comfortable, and he turns around, repositions them; still not quite
right, puts the gun in his mouth again; not quite right. And we realize...

Mr. FORD: Well, the real intention of that is...

GROSS: Yes, go ahead.

Mr. FORD: You know, he doesn't want to make a mess.

GROSS: Well, I think he's also, you know, he wants to get comfortable. He wants
to be in the right position, and finally, I think he's not quite ready to do
the act. But I'd like you to talk about that scene and what it meant to you and
how you shot it.

Mr. FORD: Sure. Well, first of all, the idea of suicide is something that I
invented because it's not part of the book. You know, the book is a beautiful,
beautiful interior monologue, and there really is no plot, to speak of, in the
book. It ambles along, and our interest is held because George's thoughts are
so interesting. His insight holds us and his humor, an often dark humor. And
when I set out to make this into a film, you know, when you decide you want to
make a film, you start listening to everything that anyone has to say about
filmmaking and reading everything, and there's a maxim about filming a visual
medium, and so you need to make, in a sense, a silent movie and layer on
dialogue.

So I had to create scenes that – well, I had to create a plot - and I felt that
what better way to show the meaning of life and to show someone trying to move
forward and live in the present than to think that this is your last day on the
planet.

So George decides to kill himself. He decides that he does not want to live any
longer. And because of this, of course, he starts to see the world in a very,
very different way, and the beauty of the world starts to pull on him.

But the particular scene that you're talking about, George's character - this
is somebody who is hyper-organized and, as I was saying, his inner world is
directly related to his outer world, and he likes control.

So this is someone who is not going to leave the world until everything is
taken care of, you know, his suit is laid out that he wants to be buried in,
his bills are paid, everything's organized. And he also is thinking about where
am I going to kill myself, how am I going to do it? I love my housekeeper. I
don't want to make a mess. Should I do this on the bed? No, it's going to get –
the sheets are going to get all covered in blood. The wall's going to be
covered in blood. Maybe I should try it in the shower. So I go to the shower.
No, that's not going to work because after I shoot myself, I'm going to fall,
there's going to be blood all over everything. So, you know, I'll get out – and
I don’t know how much we want to give away, but he starts rehearsing and
practicing, trying to figure out the most practical way to kill himself.

It's meant that he is not going to kill – I mean, and you know, maybe it didn't
translate in the film, but he's just simply practicing at that point because
he's really planning on going to dinner with his best friend after he's
practiced and figured out what he's going to do later in the evening, really in
a sense to say goodbye to her.

GROSS: I want to play a scene with Julianne Moore, who in this scene, the
character of George, who's played by Colin Firth, has gone to her house for
dinner. And they've been close friends for decades. They both used to live in
London and now both live in the L.A. area. And one time they were lovers,
probably a brief time, but he's been gay for many years, and they're still very
close friends.

But in this scene, after dinner and some wine and dancing together, she is
really expressing her wish that they could be more than friends again. And
here's the scene.

(Soundbite of film, "A Single Man")

Ms. JULIANNE MOORE (Actor): (As Charley) Don't you ever miss this, what we
could have been to each other, having a real relationship and kids?

Mr. FIRTH: (As George) I had Jim.

Ms. MOORE: (As Charley) No, I mean a real relationship. Let's be honest. What
you and Jim had together was wonderful, but wasn't it really just as substitute
for something else?

Mr. FIRTH: (As George) Is that what you really think of (unintelligible)? You
think Jim was just some kind of substitute for real love? Jim was not a
substitute for anything. Do you understand? And there is no substitute for Jim
- anywhere. And by the way, what is so real about your relationship with
Richard? He left you after nine years. Jim and I were together for 16 years,
and if he hadn't of died, we'd still be together. What the hell is not real
about that?

Ms. MOORE: (As Charley) I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I know how much the
two of you loved each other. I suppose I'm just jealous that you and I never
had that kind of love. Actually, I've never had that kind of love with anybody.

GROSS: That's Julianne Moore and Colin Firth in a scene from my guest Tom
Ford's new movie, "A Single Man." I think there are so many people who have
really close – so many people who are straight who have really close
relationships with a gay friend and sometimes wish, as Julianne Moore did, that
the friend wasn't gay and that their relationship could be, you know, more
sexual, and...

Mr. FORD: Absolutely, and you know, I think there's nothing more painful for
anyone than unrequited love. One of the things that makes this so painful for
her character is that they were once lovers. If you've ever had that kind of
physical access to someone and then, all of a sudden, that is denied, and yet
you're still in love with that person, it's very, very, very painful to be
around that person in a certain way.

GROSS: Your movie "A Single Man" is based on Christopher Isherwood's novel of
the same name, and Isherwood for many years was, for decades, was lovers with a
man named Don Bacardi, who was 30 years younger than Isherwood. And Bacardi is
still alive, and a documentary about their relationship was made within, I
don't know, the past year or two called "Chris and Don." So did you talk to Don
Bacardi about Christopher Isherwood, about Isherwood's life? Did he offer
anything that helped you get into the novel or into Isherwood's mind in a way
that was helpful to the movie; or did he even, like, give you objects of
Isherwood's that you could use on the set to bring some of Isherwood to the
movie in a very physical way?

Mr. FORD: Oh, absolutely. Don was an incredible help in so many ways. Actually,
when you mentioned bringing objects, Don has a small cameo in the film, and
he's wearing Chris' red socks. Chris always wore red socks, and so he wore a
pair of Chris' socks as good luck for his cameo appearance in the film.

But Don was incredibly helpful. I asked him about the book, about that moment
in their life. And as I understand it, and I'd have to – you know, Don could
give us the details – but the book was written at a time when Christopher felt
that Don might leave him. And they split up temporarily, and Christopher was
devastated and imagined his life without Don and imagined his life as a single
man.

You know, and Don was there for me to talk to, you know, at many different
points throughout the process. In fact, he was his most helpful, I think, when
I was really struggling, trying to stay quite literal and true to the novel
because I loved it so much.

And I was having dinner with Don in Santa Monica. And I don't know that he
really knew how much I was struggling. I was beginning to wonder if I was ever
going to be able to turn this novel into a film. And he said to me out of the
blue: Make it your own. And, you know, make it your own. The novel is the
novel. Make this film your own.

And it gave me the license, I suppose, to really look at the novel and adapt it
in a way that was different than the novel but I hope was very true to the
intention.

So Don was there in so many, so many ways, and I think it's – well, I know he
loves the film and is very, very happy.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is fashion designer Tom Ford, who is
now filmmaker Tom Ford. He wrote and directed the new film "A Single Man."
Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH
AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is fashion designer Tom Ford, who
has just written and directed his first film. It's called "A Single Man." It
stars Colin Firth and Julianne Moore, and it's adapted from the novel of the
same name by Christopher Isherwood.

In an interview, recently, with The Advocate, you said that you always
struggled with depression. And I was wondering, I mean, that's certainly an
issue in your movie, but I was wondering if that's something that you felt
previously that you should hide in the fashion industry because fashion is so
much about giving the right image and also about projecting confidence.

Mr. FORD: Yes, you certainly don't dwell on depression in the fashion industry,
but I think in our culture, you don't necessarily dwell on it. And when I say
that I've struggled with depression, it's not something that – well, you know,
well maybe at certain periods of my life it has inhibited me from doing
something; but generally, it's something that, you know, I've gone on about my
life. And it's not something that's been there all the time. It comes and goes,
as I think it does for most people.

I think that we all question why we're here. What is the point of all this? You
know, what happens at the end of it all? And I think that, you know, depression
comes to a lot of people.

GROSS: Let's talk about the look that you wanted for your film. It's set in
1962. Talk about how you wanted to dress Colin Firth's character and Julianne
Moore's.

Mr. FORD: Well, I wanted to dress Colin Firth's character in a way that would
be appropriate to who he was as a personality. So I thought, okay, this is a
guy who is not dependent on his salary as a teacher. This is a guy who comes
from a fairly wealthy background. In England, he went to, you know, private
schools – or public schools they're called in England – and he's teaching at a
public college because he feels this is the right thing to do.

So this guy probably has his clothes made, you know, when he's home in London,
and he probably gets them from Saville Row, from the same tailor that his
father went to. He is a professor, so what's he wearing? He's going to be
wearing brown tweed. He's not going to be wearing gray. He's not going to be
wearing, you know, navy blue wool serge. He's a professor.

So I also tried to calculate when would he have had these suits made? You know,
the English are quite – even still to this day – I think thrifty with their
clothing, at least the old-school English. And so I thought okay, when did he
have this suit made? I calculated he probably had it made, maybe, let's say,
1957. In fact, I ever sewed a label inside Colin's suit, as one would get at a
Saville Row tailor with his name and the date that the suit was made.

And so I really gave a lot of thought to who this guy is. This is a guy who, as
I said, really holds himself together by his outer appearance. It holds -
inside he's this deeply romantic, and at this particular moment, you know,
terribly, terribly sorrowful, man - but on the surface, you wouldn't know that.

Julianne Moore's character is a woman who has lived her life as a beautiful
women in our culture. And you know, we objectify women, and of course I, as a
fashion designer, could – you could say that I've been a part of that, but our
entire culture treats beautiful women a certain way.

A beautiful woman in our culture, and I would like to say, you know, this was
different in 1962, but it still exists today - I know a lot of these women -
treats different in a different way; meaning that if you're a beautiful woman,
you're incredibly powerful within our culture.

The world operates differently for you. Then, at a moment in time, and it has
nothing to do with you, it's like the carpet is just ripped out from under you,
and the way that you've operated in the world no longer works.

So Julianne's character is struggling.

GROSS: Because you're older.

Mr. FORD: Well, yes, and it's terrible. And you know, a woman who has lived her
life that way can often find herself in a moment where she cannot see her
future. Now, she will have a future, but she's got to alter the way she moves
through the world.

So Julianne's character is at that moment in time, and she's still clinging to
what she knows, to what's gotten her to where she is. She's thinking if she has
the most beautiful house and the latest car and the most perfect eye makeup,
and she's up on top of everything, and she's playing Serge Gazbourg(ph) way
before anyone else is because she spends the summers in the south of France and
so she's listening to this music, she's brought it back.

Her clothes, for example her dress, and we're in 1962, is really more 1963 or
four. It's very graphic. It's really pop art before pop art – or when pop art
was just starting to happen. And I rationalized this by thinking, all right,
she lives in Los Angeles. Who is she going to know in L.A. at that period of
time? Rudy Gurnwright(ph) was living in Los Angeles, and he was about to
explode on the scene with these very graphic clothes. And I thought okay, maybe
she's his muse, or maybe she's spending a lot of time with him, and she's ahead
of the curve.

But everything in her house, everything about her, is in support of her
character. It's not simply – it is a layer of veneer, but it is something
that's there to support her character. When we see her making up her face, we
see her unmade eye on one side of the screen – she's looking in a magnifying
mirror, and we have a shot looking at that – and then we see, you know, a fully
drawn eye on the other side. And it's her art, and it's her artifice, and it's
who she really is on one side, and it's the face she puts on to the outer world
on the other side of our screen.

And that's the same with George. They're both putting on layers, veneers, armor
to get through their day, as I think many of us do.

GROSS: One of the things that really astonished me in your movie is that early
on, the character of George gets a phone call. We don't see the actor who's
playing the part. We just hear the voice.

Mr. FORD: Right.

GROSS: And I heard the voice, and I go on no, it's Don Draper. It's Jon Hamm
from "Mad Men." So why did you choose to use him for that? I mean, people with
think, as I did, oh, well, it's the same era, it's the early '60s. He has such
a recognizable voice.

Mr. FORD: You know, he does, but I'm not sure that's who that was. I'm actually
not allowed to say who that was because I was sitting next to this person – and
we can tell this. I was sitting next to this person at dinner, and I was
listening to him and chatting with him, and believe it or not, I was having a
really completely foolish moment because I was not even thinking about the
connection – and by the way, at that period of time, that show was not nearly
as popular as it is now. But I was sitting next to this actor, and we were
having a nice chat, and the next day, I was looping this scene, and I had had
one of our production department be the voice on the other end of the phone,
and I needed to finally put in a real voice, and I thought, you know, who's got
a great voice? I know, the man that I was having dinner with last night.

So I emailed him. I picked up the phone, called him, and I said, would you come
in and do this? He said sure. He came by the studio, did it, you know, in 15
minutes. He added an enormous amount to the scene. His agent called me about a
half an hour later and ripped me apart.

You need to call the agent. Don't you ever do this again. You cannot credit
this man, blah, blah, blah. It was really intense. So I don't know who that was
on the other end of the phone.

GROSS: Well, you learned a lesson.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORD: Not really. I still do it all the time. I contact Julianne directly,
I contacted Colin directly. You know, that's one of the advantages of having –
and by the way, I had every advantage, and it took me five years to make a
film. I have such tremendous respect for anybody who gets a film made because
it is an enormous undertaking, even when you have every advantage.

But no, I didn't learn a lesson. I believe in going right directly to, you
know, whoever you want to talk to. And I have that ability, which helped me,
you know, get this film made.

GROSS: Tom Ford will be back to talk about the fashion world in the second half
of the show. He directed and co-wrote the new film "A Single Man." He's the
former creative director of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. I'm Terry Gross, and
this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross, back with Tom Ford. He is best known
as a fashion designer, but he has just co-written and directed the new film “A
Single Man,” starring Colin Firth and based on the 1964 novel by Christopher
Isherwood. Ford is the former creative director of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent
and now his own label. We talked about his movie in the first part of our
interview, now we’ll talk about his work in the fashion world.

Now, one of the things that you’re famous for is some of the ads that you’ve
done with very provocative, naked or barely clothed people. So, let me – just
describe a couple of the more famous ones.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay.

Mr. FORD: Go ahead.

GROSS: So, there’s the Gucci ad where there is a woman with a like a kimono
that’s open, revealing her naked body underneath. She is wearing brief
underwear, but it’s pulled down revealing a shaved - that her pubic hair is
shaved in a G for the Gucci logo.

Mr. FORD: I’m so happy you brought this up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay.

Mr. FORD: May I tell you about it?

GROSS: Yeah - and wait, wait...

Mr. FORD: Go ahead.

GROSS: ...let me finish the picture that...

Mr. FORD: All right.

GROSS: ...a young, very attractive man is kneeling very provocatively right in
front of her with his hand on her right leg.

Mr. FORD: Yes.

GROSS: So, you were saying?

Mr. FORD: I’m really glad you asked me about that because, first of all in
fashion as in life, the right thing at the right time is the right thing. The
right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing. I wouldn’t necessarily do
that ad today because we’re in a different world and we’re in a different time.
And it isn’t necessarily something that needs to be said culturally at this
particular moment in time. However, at that moment in time, that was meant as a
bit of a tongue in cheek take on where we were with branding in our culture.
And, of course, you know, I was at Gucci and branding everything, everything
had a G on it.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FORD: Louis Vuitton, everything had an LV on it. And we had come to a point
in our culture, you know, globalization had really kicked in with the Internet
in the early ’90s. And we were at a point where all of a sudden, everyone all
over the world was consuming exactly the same thing at the same time. And
branding, branding, branding, everything became a brand. And you know, there
was nothing left to brand. So, the idea is that this young man is branding his
girlfriend. And she is wearing a brand.

“Sex And The City” picked up on this and there was actually an episode where
Samantha is dating a guy and he shaves her pubic hair into a kind of lighting
bolt, I believe, and branded her. And she then later goes to the gym and she is
in the steam room and she sees all these other women with the same brand and
she realizes they’ve slept with...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORD: ...the same guy. So, it was really - you know, the first thing about
advertising is that it needs to be arresting. It needs to make you stop and
look. And sometimes challenge you and make you think.

GROSS: Okay. Another famous ad of yours, this is Opium Perfume - Yves Saint
Laurent Opium perfume. And Sophie Dahl is naked on her back with - she is like,
lying on a drape of some – like a velvet drape or satin drape of some sort.

Mr. FORD: Yeah, satin actually.

GROSS: Satin, okay.

Mr. FORD: Hmm.

GROSS: And her head is kind of thrown back in ecstasy, as she touches her
breast.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORD: You’re funny. The touching the breast, I don’t even remember, but I
do remember why I did that ad and how we thought of it. And she probably is
touching her breast because you probably have the picture right in front of
you.

GROSS: I have it right here.

Mr. FORD: You have it right there. You know...

GROSS: Oh, I didn’t mention the high heels that she is wearing. Go ahead.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORD: Wow, yeah, they’re beautiful high heels, too, and she looked great.
She is a very beautiful girl. Yes, at that moment in time, I was working for
Yves Saint Laurent and designing the collection there and we were re-launching
a fragrance. Yves was the very first fashion designer to send transparent
clothes down the runway in the ’60s. And he was - you know, sex and sensuality
were a very big part of what Yves Saint Laurent did. So, this seemed a natural
extension.

And by the way, I find that picture classically beautiful. I don’t find it
upsetting, obscene. But, you know, that’s - I find the human body really
beautiful. I do not find sex or depictions of sex, if they’re not done in a
violent way, at all upsetting. I couldn’t sometimes understand, you know, the
big deal. That particular image you have of Sophie Dahl was banned in certain
countries. And for me, you know, her skin is alabaster. It’s absolutely
beautiful. It is not a sexual picture, it is an elegant, you know, beautiful
picture for me of a very, very beautiful woman.

GROSS: You know what gets to me sometimes about, like, the naked, sexual
fashion ads is that sometimes the people in it look so vain and self-absorbed,
it’s kind of like...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...it’s kind of like, I’m so in love, I’m so passionate about myself.

Mr. FORD: It’s true, it’s true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You know...

Mr. FORD: And that’s tired and I think we’re finished with that, I hope.

GROSS: Uh-huh, uh-huh. All right. And there is this one more ad. This one, I
think, never ran in the United States because it has a man full frontal,
complete...

Mr. FORD: Yeah, I’m glad you’re asking about that, too.

GROSS: Complete full frontal. Yves Saint Laurent fragrance M7.

Mr. FORD: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: So, this is – it’s unimaginable that this would run in a mainstream
magazine in the United States right now. So...

Mr. FORD: It is.

GROSS: Yeah. Where did you get this published and why did you do it?

Mr. FORD: Well, why did I do it? Again, you know, I’m an equal opportunity
objectifier.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORD: No, really. I mean, you know - you know, what’s good for the goose is
good for the gander. By the way, I’ve posed nude, you know, quite a few times.
So, we do objectify women in our culture. And we’re starting to objectify men a
little bit more. And there is nothing wrong with that. Objectify maybe is the
wrong word. Celebrate their bodies and use beautiful men, beautiful women as a
tool to get your attention and to sell things. But no one - we’re very, very
uncomfortable in our culture with looking at a naked man. You know, naked women
are everywhere, selling everything.

And again, this is quite sexist. But naked men make us nervous. And Yves Saint
Laurent posed nude for his first men’s fragrance. And it was groundbreaking at
the time. So, I thought, all right, we’re launching a new Yves Saint Laurent
men’s fragrance. What perfect way than to continue the tradition and vocabulary
of the house of Yves Saint Laurent by, you know, publishing the first full
frontal male nude. And by the way, this is not a sexual picture. He is a very
beautiful man, shot in a very simple classic way and it’s really about his
beauty. Perfume by the way, too, is about smell and skin. And so, nudity and
perfume, I think, makes perfect sense, you know.

GROSS: Hold on. I just want to say that it is very sexually provocative whether
he is...

Mr. FORD: Do you think?

GROSS: Oh, it’s so obvious that it’s meant to be...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Let’s be honest.

Mr. FORD: But why? Why is it more provocative than a sculpture in marble of a
nude man? There’s nothing sexual about what he is doing. He just happens to –
are you sure you’re not just thinking that because you’re not used to looking
at a full-frontal male nude in...

GROSS: No. It’s - it’s shot and lit in a very romantic way and...

Mr. FORD: Romantic, yes. But romantic, is that provocative?

GROSS: Well, romantic and naked usually - I’m not saying - provocative is a –
I’m just saying it seems to be very sexual, like...

Mr. FORD: See, I don’t see that. I see that as a...

GROSS: ...knowingly sexual, yeah.

Mr. FORD: I mean, I certainly...

GROSS: Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m not saying that...

Mr. FORD: ...like to look at the picture.

GROSS: ...as an objection.

Mr. FORD: He is a beautiful man.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FORD: But I enjoy looking at Sophie Dahl. She is a beautiful woman. And by
the way, she is also not model-thin or what we normally think of as model-thin.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FORD: You know, she is much more full-figured than most models are.

GROSS: My guest is fashion designer and filmmaker Tom Ford. He co-wrote and
directed the new film “A Single Man.” He is the former creative director of
Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. We’ll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is fashion designer Tom Ford. He just directed his first film,
“A Single Man,” adapted from the 1964 Christopher Isherwood novel. Ford is the
former creative director of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, and now has his own
label.

How did you realize you were interested in fashion, in working in the fashion
world?

Mr. FORD: Well, I think it took me a while to feel comfortable admitting to
myself that I cared about fashion.

GROSS: Why – why was it hard?

Mr. FORD: Well, as a tiny kid, when I look back at pictures of myself, I was so
into fashion. I mean, I can remember being seven or eight years old and looking
at a brand new pair of shoes that I had just - my mother just brought for me,
they were on my feet. And I can actually remember thinking that the toe shape
was off by just a little...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORD: ...kind of like a millimeter in today’s - you know, now that I think
in millimeters, at the time, whatever. It’s just off a little bit and it really
disturbed me. So – and I have nieces and nephews who are, some not at all into
fashion and some, they just come out and my niece’s first word was shoe. And,
you know, so, I think you’re born this way. You’re either born in a very visual
way and that’s what’s important to you or if you’re born, if you’re a musician,
an oral way and that’s what’s important to you. Or - you know, so I think a lot
of this has to do it with our personalities. And I fought it for a while maybe,
or maybe I didn’t fight it, maybe I just wasn’t thinking about it.

I studied architecture at Parson’s and I finally realized that while I loved
architecture and it was very useful to me as a tool to learn how to think, that
it was little too serious for me at that moment in time. And that fashion - I
was better suited for fashion. I also liked the speed of fashion. You know,
fashion and film-making, to me, were two very, very different things in terms
of satisfying a certain kind of creative need. And I hope to be able to make
films and produce fashion for the rest of my life. But they’re very, very
different. Fashion is very quick. It’s very disposable. It’s immediately – it
tells you exactly where we are in our culture, especially women’s fashion.

If we’re having a glitzy over-the-top moment, fashion is very glitzy and over-
the-top, you know, over-the-top. If we’re having a moment where things are, you
know, we’re in a recession, fashion becomes quiet. So, in terms of popular
culture, fashion and especially women’s fashion is incredibly interesting,
aside from satisfying just a particular need to create and arrange things in a
way that one sees as beautiful. And so, in a certain way, it’s fulfilling. In
another way, it’s very fleeting because it doesn’t last very long. You know, a
beautiful moment in fashion goes away very quickly.

GROSS: Of all the things that you’ve designed, do you have any favorites that
you really hope will endure because you think they were wonderful?

Mr. FORD: I do. I have to say, I think my last few collections for Gucci and
for Yves Saint Laurent in 2003-2004, in terms of complexity and construction,
were some of the most interesting things I ever designed because I had learned
at that point how to make more complex clothes, both cerebrally as well as
technically. And I had worked with a great Italia in Italy for Gucci and in
Paris for Saint Laurent. So, I had learned a lot. However, the collections that
I feel influenced popular culture the most early were on in 1995, 1996.

And I think that those were the collections that I’ll be remembered for because
at that particular moment in time, fashion was in one place. It was very
subdued, very sedated and in a sense, I brought back sensuality and sexuality
to clothes. And the things I did at that time were simpler in construction, but
maybe more powerful in content.

GROSS: Just describe some of the clothes in that collection.

Mr. FORD: Oh, the first collection I did that really, you know, brought me a
lot of attention and brought Gucci a lot of attention and lot of business were
hip-huggers in velvet, satin shirts, simple coats, but what was new about them
at that time was that they were very, very sensual. They were very colorful, as
well. There was enormous amount of color. And they were a throw back to a
period in the 1970s, when fashion was more touchable. Today, you know, fashion
is not – our beauty standard today is harder. It’s beautiful but it’s off-
putting. It’s like, don’t touch me, I’m hard.

It’s so interesting how female form, less male form, mirrors where we are
culturally, aesthetically, as well as - for example, right now everything is
pumped up. Cars look like someone took an air pump and pumped them up. They
look engorged. Lips pumped up, breasts pumped up, everything is pumped up. And
it’s also kind of off-putting. It’s sexual but in such a hard way that it’s,
for me, not sexual at all. Whereas the 1970s, breasts were smaller. People were
not wearing bras. Farah Fawcett’s sexuality and sensuality was a very touchable
sexuality. She was kissable. She was friendly.

And that was what I brought back in the ’90s with some of my early collections
for Gucci that we hadn’t seen in a while. And I think that right now we’re in a
very hard moment and off-putting. I mean, look at shoes today – women’s shoes.
They couldn’t possibly get any higher and meaner and sharper. But then again,
you go and watch most films today, they’re violent and we’re living in a world
that is, at the moment, quite hard.

GROSS: I love where you say breasts were smaller in the ’70s. I mean...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORD: They were.

GROSS: But...

Mr. FORD: I don’t understand all these breasts right now, and they don’t look
like breasts. They look like someone’s taken a grapefruit half and inserted it
under your skin. I mean it’s – it doesn’t even bear any resemblance to what a
natural breast looks like. But we’re starting to think that this is what women
should like. And young girls are looking at these breasts and thinking, oh, I
need to go have my breasts done because they’ve lost touch with what a real
breast actually looks like. I find it fascinating, I find it disturbing. I
mean, you could consider it more fascinating because we’re becoming post-human.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORD: We are actually - starting to manipulate our bodies, because we can,
into a shape. We are becoming our own art. But what happens for me is that it
de-sexualizes everything. You know, you start to look more and more polished,
more and more lacquered and you look like a beautiful car. Does anyone want to
sleep with you? Does anyone want to touch you? Does anyone want to kiss you?
Maybe not because you’re too scary.

But you’re beautiful, you’re glossy, you’re shiny, but you’re not human. Very
interesting. And I say that in a very detached way, I’m not making a judgment
about it. I’m just saying it’s fascinating culturally.

GROSS: So, are you trying to do something about that now?

Mr. FORD: I don’t know. At the moment I’m not designing women’s clothes. So, I
don’t have an outlet to express my thoughts for women, I’m mostly observing. On
that same subject - and you probably want to take this out, I don’t know - but
if you look at the 1950s, quite fascinating, tail fins, sharp, going to Mars,
going to the moon, breasts, pointed in a way that we look at them today, so
bizarre. Women’s lips, the beauty standard then was thin, pointy, long lines of
the lip, eyes the same thing.

So, culturally, graphically where we were in the 1950s was reflected in the
female form. Where we are in 2009 is reflected in the female form. It’s very
interesting, again cerebrally, how women’s fashion and how we objectify women
is very reflective of where we are culturally and in our society.

GROSS: Now, what do you typically wear? You’re in a studio in New York. I’m in
a studio in Philadelphia. I’ve no idea what you’re wearing now.

Mr. FORD: I’m in a black suit, a white shirt, a white pocket, square black
shoes, boots actually I usually wear. I think that’s probably the Texan in me.
And I had on a tie earlier but I took it off. So, I usually wear kind of a
uniform: dark suit, white shirt, French cuff, cufflinks, simple watch. I’m
pretty - I don’t wear a lot of color. In fact, I don’t actually like color on
myself. I love color but it’s very challenging, it’s very powerful, it can
overpower you. I think if my eyes were closed and someone put a red jacket on
me, I would be able to feel that it was red. I don’t feel great in color.

GROSS: When you’re depressed...

Mr. FORD: Mn-hmm.

GROSS: ...do you wear what you always wear or do you feel like sometimes you’re
not just - you’re not feeling fabulous enough to wear wonderful clothes? You
just have to wear...

Mr. FORD: No.

GROSS: ...something schlumpy(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORD: No. It’s the opposite for me, which is one reason in the opening
scene of our film - well, I mean, it’s in the book, as I said. But George puts
on a coat of armor. No, if I’m having a bad day I put on the very best thing I
have. I polish my shoes, I shine everything up because that helps me get though
the day. It helps me, you know, it’s in a sense armor. It says, okay, I’m a
mess inside but you know what, on the outside I’m going to be pulled together,
everything is okay.

GROSS: Just one more thing, I wonder what you’d say to people, men and women,
but I think particularly women, who shop in, you know, in just regular stores,
you know, and buy stuff off the rack and find like nothing fits, nothing is
flattering, nothing is made for their body, that things are made for these
perfect sizes that they’re not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And – ‘cause sometimes like you shop for clothes and you just have to
grit your teeth because there’s nothing for you.

Mr. FORD: Well, and this may sound very spoiled but I think that something that
people in general forget to do - and it’s true, not everyone has the financial
means to do this, whatever clothes you buy if you really want them to fit well,
you need to have them altered or tailored. And whether you’re doing that
yourself, whether you’re taking it to your drycleaner that has a tailor, you
need to alter and tailor everything, whether it’s expensive, whether it’s, you
know, whether it’s inexpensive. If you want it to really fit your body, even
the best clothes have to be tailored.

GROSS: I think that’s good advice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORD: It’s true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORD: You know, you watch television and you see these actors and they’ve
got a t-shirt on and, wow, it’s like, that looks amazing. Well, it’s been
tailored. You know, somebody took it in a little bit here, pulled it in over
the arms so that their biceps showed. It’s a t-shirt but, you know, get a
sewing machine and run a few simple stitches, even I can alter my own t-shirt,
not that I do, but I could.

GROSS: Well, Tom Ford, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. FORD: Thank you.

GROSS: Tom Ford is a fashion designer and the director and co-writer of the new
film “A Single Man,” adapted from the 1964 Christopher Isherwood novel,
starring Colin Firth. This is FRESH AIR.
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From Bauhaus, A Visionary Mix Of Art And Industry

TERRY GROSS, host:

The Bauhaus was one of the most important design movements of post-World War I
Germany. Founded by architect Walter Gropius, this combination of school,
studio, department store and social experiment lasted 14 years, until the Nazis
finally forced it to shut down. A major Bauhaus exhibition is now at the Museum
of Modern Art in New York, and our classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz has a
review.

LLOYD SCHWARTZ: For many years, there was an iconic painting hanging in the
lobby of the Museum of Modern Art. A picture of busy people going up and down
the stairs at the Bauhaus, that noble experiment in Germany between the world
wars that in many ways ushered us into the modern world. For 14 years, under
its various directors, beginning with architect Walter Gropius and ending with
architect Mies van der Rohe, the Bauhaus — or house of building — showed us
what it meant to be modern.

In art, that meant a departure from realism into the realm of abstract
paintings and sculpture. But it also meant a departure from bourgeois excess,
having simple but comfortable furniture with clean lines, in elegant,
efficient, and inexpensive surroundings. At the Bauhaus, art and industry were
not necessarily enemies. Art could make eloquent use of industrial materials.
And industrial materials, down to kitchen utensils and teapots, ashtrays and
lighting fixtures, could be as beautiful and elegant as works of art — in fact,
were works of art.

Now at the Museum of Modern Art, which is itself a direct product of the
Bauhaus frame of mind, Oscar Schlemmer’s painting of that Bauhaus stairwell has
a particular place of honor in an astonishing exhibit, Bauhaus 1919-1933:
Workshops for Modernity — an exhibit that’s devoted to every aspect of that
great achievement. This exhibit isn’t like most art shows. It’s like entering a
whole world.

Everywhere you turn you’re struck with a dizzying array of paintings and
sculptures, films and photographs, wall hangings, chairs and desks and lamps,
kids’ toys and architectural plans, books, pamphlets, and posters with
startlingly streamlined and colorful calligraphy. Some of the major 20th-
century artists participated in the Bauhaus experiment, like Paul Klee and
Wasily Kandinsky, working alongside some marvelous artists few people outside
of Germany are familiar with.

This show has exciting examples of all of them, including the Museum of Modern
Art’s most famous Paul Klee, “The Twittering Machine,” that slyly comic mixture
of nature and mechanics, and the less well-known, almost sinister hand puppets,
one of them a self-portrait that Klee designed for his children. There’s the
Hungarian artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s astonishing 1930 “Electric Sculpture
Machine,” a conglomeration of glass and metal and plastic and wood, sieves and
graters, tracks and tubing, that’s not only striking in itself but casts the
must seductive and elusive shadows as it rotates.

If you’re familiar with the famous Breuer office chair, you’d be surprised at
how many different models Breuer designed, and even more surprised by his use
of plushly colorful fabric in his unique African chair, a glorious throne both
primitive and magisterial. It was long thought lost, but the curators located
it and it’s on view.

The curators seemed to have thought of everything. They had the walls in each
gallery painted with original Bauhaus colors, not only the expected shades of
gray and white but also peach and lime. If you know Josef Albers “Homage to the
Square” paintings, you may still be surprised to see him work out his color
theories in brilliant little stained glass panels. These Bauhaus color
experiments also connected to music, the 12 notes of the musical scale
reflected in a 12-color spectrum. Complete mastery is impossible without
precision, Kandinsky wrote in 1926. His own paintings combined exacting
mathematics with a boundary-breaking, seemingly uncontrolled sense of fantasy.

All the products of the Bauhaus, whether commercial or strictly idealistic,
combined precision with the wildest imagination. Perhaps no place more than in
New York, in the very building that houses this show, do we see how much the
Bauhaus produced a vision of the very world we are now living in. And the
illuminating and thoroughly detailed catalogue - it weighs five pounds - gives
you a pretty substantial impression of how profoundly prescient those artists
were.

GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of the Boston Phoenix and
teaches English at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. The exhibition,
Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity, is at the Museum of Modern Art
through January 25th.

You can download Podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org, and
you can follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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