Tom Ford is a wanted man. And not just by the fashion moguls of western civilisation. I think he may be responsible for some criminal acts against our culture. I am not saying Ford is the metrosexual murderer responsible for the death of everything we hold dear, such as individuality, sexual perversion, cinema, men, women, sex itself. That would be putting too much at the door of one, rather banal-seeming man. But there is something about fashion and men’s fashion in particular, and Ford’s brand of crispy, shifty, deathly menswear that makes me think he has something to be held to account for.
Ford, who recently ‘came back from the dead’ (and a vampiric, undead directing debut- A Single Man) to relaunch his career in women’s fashion, gives us some clues as to the nature of his crimes.
Ford was interviewed by the artist John Currin, for Interview Magazine. This interaction struck me first, where Ford realises (for the first time?) that his whole way of seeing is based on the artifice and ‘cultivation’ of his fashion design:
‘CURRIN: I didn’t mean it pejoratively that your aesthetic is always about cultivation.
FORD: My fashion aesthetic. I guess I’ve yet to express another aesthetic’.
Ford’s success, as a movie-director, fashion designer and icon, is indicative that his ‘aesthetic’ is our aesthetic- postmodern culture is dominated by the values (or lack of) of fashion. Everyone is a mannequin these days, from porn stars to movie actors to reality TV celebrities such as Mikey Sorrentino. The 21st century is ‘yet to express another aesthetic’. Thanks Tom.
Currin goes on to ask Ford about A Single Man.
‘CURRIN: What’s interesting in the movie is that the aesthetic is so unsexualized. It was orderly and beautiful, but with this tragic panic underneath. But it was weird how it did look like you and your world to a degree, or how most people envision it.
FORD: Well, I think most people don’t actually know me. They know the projection of me that I use to sell things. And they know me from an expression of material beauty. I’m actually very introverted. I’m very shy. I’m very emotional. I think those are human experiences that everyone can relate to. So this movie wasn’t about sex. It was about love. That was on purpose, because a lot of people equate homosexuality with sex and not necessarily with love. It was important that I keep the movie not about sex. It was about the same struggle that everyone goes through, if you’re intelligent, at some point in your life. You ask yourself, What is this all about? Why am I living? What does this mean? Why am I here? Those are the questions George is asking himself.’
Here Ford tells us quite proudly how he took the sex, the life? out of a film about homosexuality. His justification for showing us a sexless, sanitised, ‘orderly’ version of homo-sex, is that ‘a lot of people equate homosexuality with sex and not necessarily with love. It was important that I keep the movie not about sex’. I don’t think I buy this reasoning. Hollywood is dire in its portrayals of homosexuality; we only have to go back as far as the soulless Brokeback Mountain to see how people jumped on the chance to see homosexuality in the movies as all about hopeless, romantic, unlikely, soppy ‘love’. As Mark Simpson asked:
‘Am I dead inside because I didn’t experience the torrent of emotions I’ve been reading about? Am I as emotionally crippled as Ennis because I didn’t blub and hug after sitting through this ‘visceral’ movie, but instead wanted to go and ‘help with the roundup’?”
I am afraid my hunch is more that Ford himself doesn’t want to see homosexuality, or anything really, to do with sex. His ‘aesthetic’ whether it be to do with men or women, homo-or heterosexual people, is cold, clinical, asexual. He thinks people see him as ‘the projection of me that I use to sell things’ but I think that could be how he sees himself as well. And what sells things better than physical beauty unsullied by anything as messy and complex as sex?
Ford works in men’s and women’s fashion these days. But, like most people it seems, despite his inside knowledge of the industry, he still holds onto the idea that it is women’s bodies that are used more than men’s, to sell products:
‘Someone asked me recently about male nudity, and I brought up the subject that, in our culture, we use female nudity to sell everything. We’re very comfortable objectifying women. Women go out and they are basically wearing nothing. Their feet and toes are exposed, their legs are exposed, their breasts are exposed. Everything is exposed—the neck, the arms. You have to be really physically perfect, as a woman, in our culture to be considered beautiful. But full frontal male nudity challenges us. It makes men nervous. It makes women nervous.’
I know that fashion ads don’t tend to show men’s tackle dangling down, but then, they don’t usually show women’s genitalia either. Again as Mark Simpson has clearly pointed out, but it seems to no avail, it is men’s bodies which are objectified in our culture these days, even more than women’s, arguably. Ford goes on to tell us how he did an interview with a journalist in the nude-with both men in the nude-to illustrate how comfortable he is with the naked (male) body. But I am not entirely convinced. As someone who works in male fashion, and as an openly gay man in film, media and high society milieux, Ford should know more than most that men’s bodies are the currency, the cultural capital of today. If anyone is ‘nervous’ about the male body, I think it could be Ford himself.
My problem, regardless of anything to do with Ford’s psyche, with his attachment to this fallacy that women’s bodies are objectified in our culture, and are used to sell products, rather than men’s, is that it plays into the hands of conservative forces. Feminists and puritanical right-wingers alike, love to go on about how our culture is steeped in sexual imagery, how ‘pornification’ has corrupted us all, and how this is due to the lustful, voyeuristic, predatory nature of men, who consume and abuse women as a matter of course. If someone as high profile as Ford came out and called bullshit on those myths, we might actually get somewhere in changing gender norms. But I expect Ford is well aware that maintaining the status quo, politically, makes good business sense, even though his whole business involves contradicting those norms.
He goes on to say : ‘ I detach the physical from the spiritual’ which is why he feels no ‘remorse’ in his work which objectifies humans so stylishly. Here Ford could be Patrick Bateman himself, looking in the mirror at the body before him, the body with no soul, no conscience:
‘And I turn the same eye on myself: When I look in the mirror, I say, “Well, this eyebrow is starting to sag,” or “I’m going gray right here, I need to fix that.” Or “I’ve eaten too much. I need to do a few more push-ups, blah blah blah.” But that’s completely separate from me as a human being. It’s purely the body that I move through the world in, and people react to it on the surface. So, no, I don’t have any remorse, because I separate them. Do you?’
Yes. Apparently Currin, the fine artist interviewing Ford, does feel remorse when he paints women as objects. Which could be one reason I have never heard of him. You don’t get very far in this world, with such sensibilities.
According to Ford, gay men make better fashion designers, because they don’t let lust get in the way of their work. Not with women, anyway. He doesn’t explain how, being a gay man, he can detach his loins from his eyes and brain when he works with male models. But anyway, he reassures us:
‘I’m an equal-opportunity objectifier. I think it’s the exact same thing. I’m sorry, I don’t understand why our culture both worships and objectifies beauty, and then slams those of us who participate in it. Because I make that detachment, I’m capable of objectifying a beautiful woman, but that doesn’t demean her in any way. She’s beautiful because she’s a creature who exists physically, in the physical world, who happens to be in a moment of prime.’
An equal opportunity objectifier- it’s a good line. One that Bateman would have been proud of.
Like all good psychopaths, I can’t quite nail Ford. He says that homosexuality should be seen as sexless in our culture, he says he can separate the spiritual from the physical, the human from the aesthetic. He knows he is a brand before he is a man. He tells us that ‘sex sells’ when really he is selling us a kind of ‘sexlessness’- sex with its heart ripped out.
Ford claims to feel no remorse. Which is handy if you are guilty as hell. I can’t say for sure he is the metrosexual murderer, the steazy assassin, but if I found out he was, I would not be surprised.