Richard Buckley (1948–2021) was, for 34 years, the man in Tom Ford’s life. He died just this week, and this may have been his last contribution to the world of journalism—a world he knew all too well. Richard leaves behind him a wonderful family, most importantly the couple’s son, Jack, and a sterling career as both a writer and an editor for magazines and newspapers that spanned oceans and titles, including Vanity Fair, Italian Vogue, and Vogue Hommes International.
At a new-normal post-vaccination dinner party recently, Tom was talking about how he hated one of his collections because it hadn’t been ideal. One of the guests at the table said, “You are really a true perfectionist,” to which Tom answered, “Yes, and it’s a nightmare, because no matter how hard you try, it is never perfect.”
That, however, hasn’t stopped him from trying to chase the impossible during our 34 years together, as maddening as it may be for me and the others around him.
On our first date, in November of 1986, Tom told me, “In 10 years I will be a millionaire and showing my collections in Europe.” As I already had six years of fashion-industry experience under my belt, I sat there thinking, “Poor thing. He will become so disillusioned when the system chews him up and spits him out.”
That time, like so many others over the years, he would prove me wrong. He achieved his goal in nine years.
Dealing with the Critics
But it’s not as if there haven’t been, and continue to be, obstacles along the way. After four years at Gucci—and with Dawn Mello, his former boss, gone and no longer breathing down his neck—Tom was named Gucci’s creative director. In many ways, Dawn was a fantastic mentor to Tom, but after her countless years as Bergdorf Goodman’s fashion director, she was a retailer and merchandiser at heart. As anyone in the fashion business knows, merchandisers are all repressed designers.
Tom’s first collection post-Dawn, spring-summer 1995, was important because it would be his first solo outing, and his future depended on its being a success. But already, another fashion house, in a mean-spirited move, refused to release the models for Tom—even though its presentation was six hours later than his, and the Camera Nazionale, the Italian fashion council, had given Gucci a crack-of-dawn time slot at Milan’s Fiera. Those who did make it were generally hungover.
The following morning at the Jil Sander presentation, I tried to read Suzy Menkes’s International Herald Tribune review over someone’s shoulder, but I couldn’t see it. I skipped the next show, went home, and bought a copy of the paper on the way.
Let’s just say Ms. Menkes’s review was not kind. I broke down reading it, sobbing all over the page on the kitchen table. Still very emotional, I called Tom to tell him how sorry I was to read the review, and I asked if he was upset. Oddly enough, he did not seem fazed by the pan at all, and told me not to worry, because there would be many more bad reviews; it was all part of the process.
About a month later, he and I finally sat down and spoke about that first collection. He asked me what I really thought of it. To be honest, I hadn’t liked it much, either, but I couldn’t bear Suzy’s dissing his hard work. I told him the collection was “pretty and nice” but wasn’t sexy. “Whatever a woman puts on, she wants to feel sexy,” I said. “There was nothing sexy there.”
The following season, fall-winter 1995, Tom went rogue, grabbing a time slot off of the official show calendar. He got the models he wanted and everything else: the runway, the lighting, and even the men in suits serving drinks, later to become a hallmark of Tom’s tenure at Gucci and at Saint Laurent. The reviews of that show were pretty much raves, including Suzy’s. Tom had amped up the sexy quotient, they liked it, and from that point forward he ran with it. I guess my words had sunk in.
Then, as now, Tom sets a very high standard for beauty, and he works by gut instinct. He sees everything, down to the last detail. I’ve actually never known anyone else with the ability to be so observant or precise. Nothing gets by him. And let’s just say he can be a little imperious in his work, but then he wouldn’t be where he is today if he wasn’t unyieldingly in command. And, although I sometimes hate to admit it, he is always right.
I learned a long time ago not to comment on his collections before they are shown, even specifying that I not see anything. When fashion friends ask, “What have you seen?,” I can honestly tell them, “Nothing, I’ve seen nothing.” Usually he would show me Polaroids the morning of the show—now images on his phone—but I’ve found that the few times I have seen things in advance and told him I didn’t like them, they have ultimately succeeded, maybe not from my own subjective aesthetic, but certainly from that of the rest of the press and the buyers who attend the shows.
Music and Lyrics
I do help Tom with issues with the press. After 34 years together, with him as a designer and my 25 years in the business as a journalist, I have a strong working knowledge of both sides of the fence, and I can give good counsel about how he should handle certain situations, those as mundane as seating placements at press dinners. There are times his “people” will pooh-pooh an idea because they know he won’t like it, but then I will go to the mat and try to convince him that they are wrong.
Over the years, Tom has also asked me for advice on music for his shows, and I often submit suggestions to him. But he usually knows where he wants to take the music. My one big success was right before the fall-winter 1996–97 collection. He called from Milan to say he was having trouble with the music. The next day, I was in the Fnac music store in Paris and heard “Killing Me Softly” by the Fugees at a listening post. I literally called him from Fnac and told him to get someone to go out and buy the album. The night of the show, that “Killing Me Softly” closed out the collection with cutout jersey dresses.
I tend to go silent after one of his shows. I do not run backstage and fawn all over him, and I know that hurts his feelings. Truth be told, I am always a total nervous wreck before his presentations, to the point where I physically blank out. I am so neurotically sensitive in that moment that if someone speaks to me, I don’t really even hear the voice. Once the show starts, my eyes dart around the room, looking at the expressions on journalists’ faces. If a model walks by me and I see even one loose thread, I am sure the press will write that the clothes are poorly made.
I remember a show where the poor model, who was walking the runway for her first time, was so nervous she fell over not once but twice. The first time, she literally collapsed right in front of the bank of photographers, and the second, she fell over sideways into the audience and someone in the first row caught her and pushed up back upright. I was sure the show would be killed because “the shoes were impossible to walk in.” It has always been a real problem for me that I cannot watch Tom’s shows objectively, as I would anyone else’s, or enjoy them even slightly.
It was always very difficult for me to walk around from show to show the day after one of Tom’s presentations. Because these were my peers, I had to pretend I didn’t see people, so I averted my eyes when they hadn’t liked the collection. It was difficult to kiss Cathy Horyn, from The New York Times, and Suzy Menkes on both cheeks despite their reviews. As Tom told me in the beginning, it’s all part of the process.
Only once have I relaxed during one of Tom’s shows. It was in February 2020 at Milk Studios, two days before the Oscars. There might have been a few members of the press, but mostly the audience was there to have a good time no matter what he presented. That evening, when the crowd started whooping to the first thumping sounds of the Beth Ditto cover of the Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited,” remixed with “The Next Episode,” by Dr. Dre, I thought, This is a party!, and I could, for once, let go and have fun.