InStyle Awards Designer of the Year Tom Ford Talks About the Power of Dressing Stars Versus Characters
Who's the best dressed of them all for 2016? And who are the designers, artists, and creative geniuses behind some of the most memorable looks of the red carpet?
Come Monday, the fashion world will turn its attention to the Getty Center in Los Angeles, where the second annual InStyle Awards will bring together an exceptional group of honorees and presenters to celebrate both the most stylish stars and our heroes behind the scenes who help create such inspiring fashion moments. I'm certainly looking forward to getting back to the amazing setting of the Getty Center, where our event unfolds with such an incredible backdrop overlooking the city at sunset. And I can't wait to see Tom Ford, our night's designer of the year, who is truly having an incredible year between wowing us with his first in-season fashion presentation and thrilling us with the upcoming release of his second feature film, Nocturnal Animals.
So to give you a little preview of what to expect on Monday night, I asked Tom for a few words on a subject that is near and dear to all of us: the red carpet.
You tend to keep your dresses very exclusive, often designing just one for the Oscars each year. What is the value of keeping yourself scarce as a designer?
When you have the right dress on the right celebrity, it's more powerful than having a lot of dresses on too many celebrities, and not the right one. It's kind of like the concept of would you like to have one beautiful thing in your living room, and not a lot of stuff? Or would you want to have a lot of stuff and not that one really great piece that you wanted? I find when I really focus on one person that I'm able to be the most concentrated. Usually, it's someone I know or whom I have tremendous respect for as an actress. Also, it often allows that person to really feel they are wearing something special, to know that you are not doing anything for anyone else, and it often yields the most exciting results.
What makes the difference between a magical red carpet moment and just another dress?
It's about matching the dress with the person. Before I even talk to someone about a dress I pull up every picture I can find of her online to see what she looks great in, because usually people look their best when they feel most comfortable. I don't mean comfort in terms of comfort—usually these women are in corsets and Spanx and all sorts of tricks to make their bodies look the best that they can—but comfort in terms of feeling that they look great.
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- You've dressed all of our style icons already, so I thought it would be more fun to ask who you would have loved to have dressed from the past?
- Well, of course, as a man, Cary Grant, and among women, almost any Hollywood star from the 1930s. I would say Joan Crawford would have been kind of great to dress, or Jean Harlow with her figure that was so curvy, or Marilyn Monroe. If I had been working in Hollywood during that period, I would have admired Adrian, who dressed them all. What I'm getting at is that maybe I go for icons, maybe even subconsciously, because something about them sums up an era stylistically, in the same way each era has its own graphic design or its own look. I'm less pulled toward Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O, but more toward powerful, sexual creatures. That's not to say that Jackie O wasn't sexual, or chic. She was soooo chic. But in terms of who I like to design for, I supposed I tend to go for women who are more powerfully sexual. The odd thing is that if I were a woman, I would probably be more like Jackie O or Ali MacGraw, or a woman who is maybe less overtly sexual.
- I loved seeing your new movie, Nocturnal Animals, which was really quite scary in its dark beauty. Is there similarly a “look” to your films?
- No, and you may not believe me but it's true that for me the story is the most important thing. The look of something only has to tell the story. I can't describe the look of my film in the way I would describe a dress because they are totally different things. By the way, there are lots of different looks in this film because we have a cold, hard world that is our outside view of a woman who is very unhappy, and that is all built and photographed in a way to make it seem cold, hard, unfriendly, and very modern and very slick. Then we have flashbacks that are very warm and colorful and very saturated because that is the way we often remember things. We remember an argument or a love scene in an intense way. It's cemented in our head, so we usually look back in a nostalgic way and tend to color it, literally. If it was something hot or angry, it becomes very vivid.
There are a lot of different looks in the film and the character of Susan [Amy Adams] in the contemporary world is very processed. Her hair has been straightened, the color has been intensified, her eyebrows have been slimmed down, her look has been very lacquered and hardened, which is reflective of her character. When she was younger she was freer and looser. The style in the film is directly related to the emotion of the characters, which, when you think about it, maybe isn't so different from the way I dress people on the red carpet because I dress them according to their personality and what they want to say about themselves in that particular moment. Clothing is about telling a story. But going back to your question, I say there isn't a look to my film because I don't want people mistaking looks as a veneer. It's actually reflective of what I'm trying to say in a story.
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- Well said. And now, with the film about to be released on Nov. 23, it's soon your turn to be dressing up and facing reporters on the red carpet. So what question do you most appreciate being asked there?
- Hmm. Oh, I don't know! Ask me one and I will tell you if I like it. But you know which one I usually hate? "Who did you dress tonight?"
If I were an actor or actress, I would hate being asked that on a red carpet. It's all part of the game so to speak, but now there are press releases for that. In a way, I think the comment should be, "Wow, you look great." I'd rather someone just ask if you're excited to be here.