The last time I wrote something like this for Tom was 17 years ago, when his first book came out. It was a big, lush volume, and it was called, not surprisingly, Tom Ford. Which was good in that you knew what you were getting: lots of sexy photos of really attractive people in really fabulous clothes licking things like fruit. Or just licking each other.

As I mentioned back in that previous introduction, we had dinner together at the Ivy in London the night before he announced his departure from Gucci. In the fashion world, it was a seismic event. That evening at dinner, though, Tom was as calm as if he were going off to an ashram for the weekend. Which he might well have been planning to do. Tom had been creating 16 separate collections a year at that point—half for Gucci and the other half for YSL, which he was also then designing. And he was exhausted.

He said he wanted to make films. I’m sure a good number of people thought this was empty posturing. As we know now, it was anything but. Tom’s film A Single Man, with Colin Firth and Julianne Moore, came out five years after his Gucci exit. It was an audience-and-awards magnet. And Tom, being the control freak he is—and I mean this in the best sense of the word—was a multi-multi-hyphenate on the film. He not only wrote, produced, financed, and directed it, but, not surprisingly, he did Colin’s clothes. It is also assumed that he fussed over every prop on every dresser and every table. It’s just the way he is.

He made another film, Nocturnal Animals—which was too upsetting for me to watch. He also just happened to launch what would become a global fashion empire. Which, also not surprisingly, is called Tom Ford. I’m not sure whether he would call this a second act or a third act. Either way, it’s been a hell of a triumph. He started with clothes for men and eyeglass frames, and then he slid into women’s fashion and all sorts of other things, including fragrances—he has, if you can believe it, 37 of them. He’s now everywhere.

All in the Details

Tom acted as guest editor for the Hollywood Issue of Vanity Fair the year after he left Gucci, and as much as I expected him to phone it in, as they say in the movie business, he did nothing of the sort. Often to my dismay. Tom produced and styled every single shoot in the issue. He pored over every line of copy. People think success is a giant wave of blithe happiness. In Tom’s case, it’s that, certainly—but it’s also the result of an almost otherworldly attention to details big and small.

We were going out for dinner near the end of this very long editing process, and he stopped by our house in the Village for a drink first. We had a wirehaired fox terrier back then, and Tom scooped her up in his arms for a good cuddle. The next day, we realized that Tess smelled like Tom. As she did the day after that. We bathed her. She still smelled like Tom. We bathed her again. Still Tom. We were talking on the phone later that week, and I mentioned the Tess saga. “Gray-don, Graydon,” he said in the sort of tone you use when talking to a particularly dim child. “Longevity is the sign of a great fragrance.”

Tom gave up smoking and drinking but managed to stay both slim and fun. He also manages to give the air of someone who continues to smoke and drink—which is a welcome accomplishment. Tom then gave up drugs and went vegan. Still slim and fun. And he only rarely talks about the veganism.

He and Richard Buckley, a celebrated writer and editor going way back, and Tom’s partner for 35 years, until his death earlier this fall, bought Betsy Bloomingdale’s old house in Holmby Hills. It’s a glorious riot of High California Regency, with interiors by Billy Haines. They spent most of their time there with their son, Jack, who is nine. You should know that Tom is all Halston-y in his public manner, but he’s more like Fred MacMurray in his private one. He appreciates both the cosmopolitan circus of fashion and filmdom and the bourgeois comforts of family and home.

Tom gave up smoking and drinking but managed to stay both slim and fun. Tom then gave up drugs and went vegan. Still slim and fun.

During the pandemic, Tom and Richard had similar experiences to most of us. Jack was home-schooled. Tom’s dad died—not of the coronavirus but with no real funeral. And Tom worked to keep a global business afloat during one of the more trying periods in recent retail history. That was his day job. He also steered the Council of Fashion Designers of America on its own difficult path through the upheavals caused not only by the pandemic but by the B.L.M. and #MeToo movements.

Tom and Richard sold their house in London and their ranch in Santa Fe. This is not your usual downsizing. Tom still has a house in Santa Fe proper and a place in Palm Springs. Come the near future, he will be dividing his time between the Bloomingdale place and a Paul Rudolph house on New York’s Upper East Side that was previously owned by Halston, Gianni Agnelli, and Gunter Sachs. Which sounds about as right as anything.

Did I mention that Tom is as attractive to men as he is to women? Aside from the looks and general suavity, he’s wonderful company and a gregarious and generous friend and host. Just about every well-dressed man I know in Hollywood wears his clothes when they have to go somewhere fancy and cavernous to pick up a statue of some sort. Tom Hanks, Bryan Lourd, Colin Firth, Jon Hamm—they’re all Ford models. So, too, was my late friend Jerry Weintraub.

As for the women who wear his clothes, well, it would take more than the small space I have for this scribbling to list them all. He does the clothes for the Daniel Craig iteration of James Bond—although, to my mind, they’re a bit tight. This does not apply to me, but just because you have expensive muscles doesn’t mean others have to see them ripple when you’re fully dressed.

Tom is both international and quintessentially American. Even his name is perfectly American—in a good way. You’ve got Tom—as in Sawyer, and Hanks. And you’ve got Ford, as in John and his Westerns—not to mention the car. His name is short and works perfectly on storefronts, labels, book covers, and fragrance bottles. The most popular of the latter is called Tom Ford Fucking Fabulous. To which one can only add “Indeed.”

Graydon Carter is a Co-Editor of Air Mail