02 October

Numero Homme’s exclusive interview with Tom Ford : “Some guys are born with large, loose testicles. Others are born with small balls… ”

 

On the eye of the launch of his new line of underwear, acclaimed designer and director Tom Ford fields some decidedly below-the-belt questions about jockstraps, Donald Trump and assorted genitalia in an exclusive interview for Numero Homme.

Interview by Philip Utz, portrait Jeff Burton

Silk and mohair tuxedo jacket, cotton shirt, bow tie and watch, Tom Ford. Silk boxers, Tom Ford. Hair: Thom Priano. Make-up: Fulvia Farolfi. Manucurist: Yoko Sakura. Retoucher: Michael Shields at Epilogue. Models: James Yates at Two MGMT, Gary Winfield and Andrew Biernat at LA Models.

 

Numéro Homme: How are you?

Tom Ford: I’m very well! How are you?

 

Flustered, you’re such a dreamboat!

Yeah, yeah, yeah. (Laughs.)

 

What’s it like being Tom Ford?

That’s such a weird question. Who knows? I’ve only ever been Tom Ford, so it’s not like I have any means of comparison. I have a very nice life and I’m extremely lucky, so I’d be tempted to say: “It’s fucking fabulous!” I’m really happy, so it’s great!

 

To what extent is your everyday life a dizzying swirl of pool boys and pool parties, private jets and private islands, male masseurs and happy endings?

I hate to disappoint, but the pool boys, the parties, the drinks and the drugs are all part of a past life that I no longer live. These days, when I’m not running around taking my six-year-old son to school - or to birthday parties on the weekends -, I’m up to my neck in work… And whenever I do have a minute to myself, I play tennis.

 

You launched your eponymous label in 2006; why did you wait until now to launch the underwear?

I thought about launching it a few years ago, but until recently you needed a huge distribution network to be serious about the underwear business, and you couldn’t control what the points of distribution looked like, how the product was merchandised, bought, or positioned on the shop floor. Which was something that I just didn’t feel was right for the brand. And then, like most people, I started shopping almost exclusively online. A couple of years ago, I realized that you could actually tap into the younger generation of clients by using the Internet as the primary distribution network. My underwear line will therefore be available in my own stores and a few key retail partners that we already do a big business with - so that we know how it will be displayed and sold – and it will also be available online, through a few handpicked outlets. And so I think we can develop a strong business while maintaining the right image for the brand.

 

 

“Some guys are born with large, loose testicles. Others are born with small balls… in which case you’re better off sticking to boxers, so that you can look forward to having a normal-sized pair by the time you grow old.”

 

 

Do you wear boxers or briefs?

I don’t wear underwear. Back in my days at Gucci, people seemed to be obsessed with that question and they’d always ask me about it. On one occasion, at the height of my drunken period, I was speaking to a journalist that you know - I won’t name names – and we were both completely smashed. At one point she blurted: “I can’t believe you don’t wear underwear! Do you really not wear any underwear?” So I unzipped my fly and whipped out my penis, and Richard [Buckley, Tom Ford’s husband] grabbed me by the scruff of my collar, dragged me away from the paparazzi and said: “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Zip up your pants!” Richard used to think I was crazy because I’d take my clothes off on Friday night and wouldn’t put them back on all weekend. I would even have dinner in the nude, to his utmost annoyance. However, since we had Jack [Tom Ford and Richard Buckley’s son], I’ve started wearing pants at home. When you have a kid, all of a sudden you get a nanny, and then before you know it there are all these people in the house, so I started wearing underwear to get up in the morning and to go and have my cereal, and to sleep in, too, if ever Jack has a bad dream, and I have to get up in the middle of the night and run down the hall.

 

Don’t ask me why, but I always imagined you wearing Calvins.

Calvins? That’s so funny that you would imagine me wearing Calvins! I’ve never worn Calvin Klein underwear in my life. I hate to say, but I’m a little old now to be wearing tighty-whities. It’s important to realize where you are in life. I prefer something looser. If anything, I wear Brooks Brothers boxers.

 

Is there any truth to the urban legend that wearing loose boxers causes your testicles to droop?

Some guys are born with large, loose testicles. Others are born with small balls… in which case you’re better off sticking to boxers, so that you can look forward to having a normal-sized pair by the time you grow old. Beyond that, I don’t think there’s much you can do to stop them from sagging, whatever the underwear you wear. Having said that, I do think that someone might want to invent a testicle lift, in the same way that women have breast lifts. I mean, why shouldn’t guys be able to have things turned out and tightened up, too? 

 

For your Autumn/Winter 2018-2019 menswear show, you matched the colour of each model’s underpants to their skin tone. Why do you think that until recently, the colour “nude” only referred to a white person’s skin? 

I don’t know, I think that is so strange. Producing them in every skin tone made total sense to me. First of all, I love the idea of nude underwear, because when you take off your trousers and you walk around, you literally look naked. I remember when women like my mother used to wear skin-coloured pantyhose in the sixties – if I’m not mistaken, Queen Elizabeth still does. You would go to a shop and they would have all these shades of skin tones ranging from pale, to tan, and dark… And I thought: “What a great idea! Why hasn’t anyone made a range of skin tone underwear for guys?

 

 

“Unless you’ve got an outstandingly firm butt, you really can’t be seen wearing a jockstrap. A jockstrap only ever works on someone who’s 21. No one wants to see a pound of middle-aged flesh strung up like a salami.​”

 

 

Are you at all aware of global underwear trends? Does the Asian market prefer boxers to briefs, for instance, or the American market jockstraps to thongs?

I have no idea. Perhaps I ought to worry a little more about trends, I don’t know. Before I launched the line, I did some market research and I had someone go out and buy every kind of underwear, look at the packaging and the price point, look at where it was sold and how it was sold… And then I asked myself: “But what do I want?” Which is what I always do. I really just created the underwear that I wanted to see on people, that I thought was right. However, our partners in this project [the Italian manufacturing firm Isa Seta (ISA s.p.a.)] do have a lot of underwear experience. So they did come to the fittings and say: “Well, this length sells very well, and this is one of our strongest links that everyone wants…” So I guess there was a certain amount of thought put into the marketing when we developed the line.

 

Do men buy their own underwear, or do women tend to choose for them?

I would like to think that most men buy their own underwear. I mean, how can your wife know how your testicles sit in a certain brand of underwear? I’ve never quite understood the man who lets his wife – or girlfriend, or boyfriend, for that matter – buy his clothes for him. I really don’t get that. The guys who do that always end up looking scary.

 

What is the kinkiest pair of undies you’ve ever worn?

Back in the day, I used to wear a jockstrap under my jeans. But that was in 1979, when Halston’s boyfriend used to prance around town wearing a jockstrap and little else. It was a very timely thing, and I was very young… because, by the way, have you worn a jockstrap recently?

 

Heaven forbid.

Okay, well let me tell you, unless you’ve got an outstandingly firm butt, you really can’t be seen wearing a jockstrap. A jockstrap only ever works on someone who’s 21. No one wants to see a pound of middle-aged flesh strung up like a salami. It’s a complete disaster. 

 

What was New York like in 1979?

It was great, because it was pre-AIDS, I was young and newly gay, and it was drugs and sex and parties and Studio 54 and total hedonism. It was one of the most amazing times of my life, and as you know, I’ve drawn on that period as inspiration for the better part of my career. It was certainly very formative for me because I grew up in New Mexico, and when I moved to New York I was exposed to things that I’d dreamt about doing and seeing for years.

 

People always wax nostalgic about Studio 54, but was it really as depraved as people make it out to be?

It was better. A friend of mine, Matt Tyrnauer, recently shot a documentary about the club, which is really great. He did a better job of capturing the spirit than anything else I’ve seen. When you look at pictures of the place, you see this really hokey parquet floor, and it doesn’t photograph well. But the thing about it was that you had 2 000 people who were drinking and doing coke, and everyone was so happy and excited to be there, and it was such a rush to get in the door that the atmosphere inside was absolutely intoxicating. You could be whoever you were or whatever you were: it was probably the first inclusive place in the world. There were princesses, people in black tie, gay men fucking each other on the dance floor, transgender dancers, straight boys and beautiful girls… It was absolutely amazing. I’ve never had another rush like that in my life. I’ve often thought: “Was I having that rush because I was 17 years old?” And of course that’s part of it, because it was all new to me…

 

 

“My first sexual experience was when I was 14, and it was with a woman. I used to sleep with women quite often, and then exclusively with men, and then with men and women, and then I met Richard [Buckley] and it has been with men ever since.”

 

 

What’s an absolute no-go in terms of men’s underwear?

Anything with a stain on it.

 

Are you the kind of guy who throws his underpants in the trash after wearing them once?

Of course not!

 

Didn’t Calvin Klein used to do that?

I wouldn’t know, I’ve never seen Calvin in his underwear. I’ll ask him next time I see him.

 

Where does the man of style and sophistication place his penis in his pants?

I have no idea.

 

How do you hang?

Personally, I dress to the left.

 

Does size matter?

Of course it does, what are you talking about!

 

When was your first sexual experience, and who was it with?

It was when I was 14 and it was with a woman. I used to sleep with women quite often, and then exclusively with men, and then with men and women, and then I met Richard and it has been with men ever since. On the spectrum, I’d say that I’m definitely gay, but I still find women sexually unattractive. There’s a lot of ease to having sex with a woman – because, let’s face it, that’s what we are built for - and I’m not one of those gay men who are repulsed by the idea of sex with a woman.

 

What’s a man to do with his pubic hair these days?

Leave it natural, my God! Please, no more grooming and trimming and waxing and shaving! I mean, who wants a mouthful of stubble?

 

How has your taste in underwear evolved over the years?

When I was at Gucci I made transparent underwear, rhinestone-encrusted G-strings and things that were a little sleazier, quite honestly. But that was what was right for the time. Right now, I find things that are perhaps a little looser and a little less obvious even sexier.

 

How has the image that you have of yourself evolved over the years?

Oh my God. Like most people, I often think that I look the way I feel. And I feel older and more tired by the minute. I probably have facial and body dysmorphia. On the other hand, you tend to get more self-secure when you grow older. I make less of an effort. Some mornings I’ll wake up thinking: “Oh, I really ought to trim my beard, it doesn’t look great like this…” before realizing: “Oh fuck it, I don’t give a shit!” and just going about my day. A lot of that also has to do with being a father: all of your free time becomes time that you spend with your child.

 

What keeps you awake at night?

I’m one of those people who worries about everything: personal things, business things, collection things, design things, movie things... When I wake up in the dead of night, I can really spiral into a very negative space. Having said that, I think it’s a biological or physiological fact that at 3 o’clock in the morning, things seem pretty bleak to the best of us.

 

I read somewhere that Harvey Weinstein secured the rights to your first film, A Single Man, by sweet-talking you in your hotel room… Erm, how did that pan out?

(Laughs.) That’s not quite true. I’ve known Harvey for a long time, and he’s obviously done awful things, but he was also very, very passionate about film, and had a great sense of film history. He only acquired the rights to the North American distribution for my first film. And it wasn’t one-on-one in a hotel room, I might add, it was at the Toronto Film Festival with my agent and his team.

 

Why did you decide to sell your sprawling Tadao Ando-designed ranch in New Mexico last year?

I still haven’t sold it. Most people don’t understand unless they’ve been there, but we own another large house in Santa Fe, which has everything we could need, and a lot of space. And then there’s the ranch, which is a one-hour drive from Santa Fe, and which we stopped using when we had Jack because there are rattlesnakes everywhere. We might spend some time there this summer and I might take it off the market, who knows? It’s an incredibly beautiful property that sits on 20,000 acres of land, which is larger than Manhattan. But it’s also very particular, in the sense that not everybody wants to be so secluded. Personally, I love being in the middle of nowhere. There are 80 miles of roads on the grounds, so you can drive or ride your horses wherever you want, but if anything happens to you – if you get bitten by a rattlesnake, for instance - it’s an hour-and-a-half drive to the nearest hospital. 

 

You’re famous for being something of a control freak: isn’t it a headache keeping your homes picture-perfect with a six-year-old kid running around?

You become blind to it. We had our Richard Neutra house photographed last night because we’re moving to another home in Los Angeles and we’re transferring all of our furniture. Needless to say, it took me two days to sweep up all the crap before the shoot and shove it into the closets. And this morning I had to take it all out again, and put it all back.

 

Is it good form to require guests to remove their shoes before they enter your home?

I hate that shit! I absolutely loathe it! Whenever someone asks me to remove my shoes, I say: “You know what, in that case, I’m just going to have to leave!” It’s so prissy and pretentious: I don’t even want to know people who are so uptight that they don’t want you to step on their floor!

 

In terms of underwear, do you see Donald Trump as a metallic stretch cotton kind of guy, or more of a leopard print aficionado?

Oh my God, I’m not going to go there. I don’t want to see that at all.

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