Fashion designer-cum-filmmaker Tom Ford against throwaway culture and relationships

From left: Tom Ford, Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal at the photo call for Nocturnal Animals in Los Angeles last month.
From left: Tom Ford, Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal at the photo call for Nocturnal Animals in Los Angeles last month.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The fashion designer and film-maker's desire for permanence comes through in his new film, Nocturnal Animals

Fashion designer Tom Ford became a film-maker with 2009's A Single Man because he was looking to express himself in a way that was more permanent than fashion.

His follow-up film, Nocturnal Animals, which opens in Singapore tomorrow, is consistent with that desire for permanence.

"The film is really about finding people in your life that are important to you and not throwing them away," he says at a press event in London to promote the film.

"In our culture, we tend to throw everything away. We live in a disposable, throwaway culture. People, if they become too complicated, you get rid of them. We throw people away. So, it is about finding people in your life that mean something to you and hanging on to them."

He has adapted the novel, Tony And Susan, by author Austin Wright, casting Amy Adams as Susan Morrow, a successful if unhappy woman who receives a manuscript from her first husband (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), which tells a story of violence and vengeance in the Texas desert.

In our culture, we tend to throw everything away. We live in a disposable, throwaway culture. People, if they become too complicated, you get rid of them. So, it is about finding people in your life that mean something to you and hanging on to them. ''


This manuscript tale is told as a story within the story and the fictional character (also played by Gyllenhaal) confronts his masculinity when a gang of hoodlums led by Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) kidnaps his wife and child.

This fiction is cast as a metaphor for Susan's long-dead relationship. She loved her first husband, but decided she wanted more.

As with the Oscar-nominated A Single Man, Ford's new film is beautifully composed, earning a positive critical response. At this year's Venice Film Festival, Nocturnal Animals scooped the Grand Jury Prize.

Ford's aesthetic sensibility shines through in every scene. Adams' character lives a life awash with high-end art and design.

"Susan is very fashionable, but that is about her character," Ford, 55, says, insisting that his visual choices are driven by story, not just aesthetics. "She is living in a manufactured world, a world that, for her, is cold and grey and unhappy.

"Everything about her is thought-about because she is trying to be this thing that she thinks she should be. The fashion part of this film is very much in support of her character."

Ford has run his fashion brand since 2006, launching the label on the back of his stint as creative director at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. He is famed for turning around Gucci's fortunes, becoming its creative director in 1994 when the design house was said to be approaching bankruptcy.

"There have been big challenges in my professional life, but I am not afraid," he says. "I worry constantly, but I don't let it stop me. I think I kind of thrive on challenging myself: 'Can I do this? Can I do that?' I enjoy seeing if I can do it."

Five years after joining Gucci, the fashion house was valued at more than US$4 billion.

After launching his label, his clothes have adorned the likes of United States First Lady Michelle Obama, singers Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez, and actors Gwyneth Paltrow, Anne Hathaway and Johnny Depp. He also provided the suits for Daniel Craig's 007 in the last three James Bond films.

"I started my company because I couldn't find clothes I wanted to wear," he says. "If I want something in my life, I make it. I say, 'Do you know what? We don't have boots like that. Let's make a pair.'

"I say to myself, 'Okay, if I were 25 and I was going to this or that kind of party, would I wear it?' If I would, great, it stays in the collection. I am my own muse."

He then whispers: "But let's not talk about fashion."

It is hard not to when talking with Ford, though. Even he concedes that there is some overlap between running a fashion brand and directing a movie.

"On film, although it is highly collaborative, it is a director's medium. You are the one who has the vision and the statement that you want to make and you are in control of that," he says.

"As a fashion designer, it is entirely dictatorial. You are saying, 'This is the way women should look. This what I think you should wear. This is how she should be. This is what a man should look like.' It is a dictatorial thing, even more so than with film."

His interest in film is long-standing, stretching back to a youth spent in Texas and New Mexico.

"I lived vicariously through film, like a lot of us do," he recalls. "I couldn't wait to leave and to get to New York where I could have a beautiful, glamorous apartment and live like all the people I saw in the movies.

"And growing up in Texas, where you are supposed to be macho and strong and manly and powerful and provide for your wife and your family and know how to use a gun, I wasn't that. I was the one who was sensitive and quiet."

This is reflected in Gyllenhaal's character in Nocturnal Animals.

Ford says: "I identified very strongly with Jake's character. His story is an exploration of masculinity. He has strength in that he perseveres and he triumphs ultimately, in the inner novel and the outer story. That is something that I have been able to do."

Adams' character in the film is also autobiographical, he adds.

"She has all the trappings of what our culture tells us we should have and that will make us happy, yet she realises through the story that actually the thing that is important is connection with other people and that is something she has lost. I learnt that myself."

His desire to make films rather than just enjoy them was ignited in the mid-1990s.

"I'd already had a certain amount of success in fashion at that time. I love fashion, but you don't have permanence in fashion. If you are someone who wants to express something, there is nothing like film. Film is forever, more than any medium," he says.

Nocturnal Animals has come seven years after A Single Man, which earned its leading man, Colin Firth, an Oscar nomination for Best Actor because of the birth of his son, Jack Buckley Ford.

"I have always wanted a child and I had a son four years ago. I really wanted to be there with him as much as possible," he says.

"I didn't want to wait seven years to make my second movie. I don't even know where that time went, although, to a certain extent, I had to figure out what I wanted to say in my next film and to find the right project."

The idea of permanence figures prominently in Ford's thinking. "My son is my best creation," he says. "And it is interesting that I hear myself saying things to him that my father said to me. That makes me realise that my father was saying those things to me because his father had said them to him.

"I can now view myself as a link in a chain, whereas when I didn't have a child, the world started when I was born and it would have ended when I died. That is different now."

•Nocturnal Animals opens in Singapore tomorrow.

Animal ties

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2016, with the headline 'For Tom Ford, film is forever'. Print Edition | Subscribe