Hollywood knows no dearth of audacity. Nor, for that matter, does fashion. When, in the midst of his contentious departure from Gucci Group, five years ago, Tom Ford revealed nonspecific plans to become a filmmaker, skepticism ran rampant. Yes, he had transformed a mess of a European leather goods house into one of the most dramatic success stories in fashion history. Yes, he had done so on the strength of an alluring aesthetic as impeccably rendered as it was sexual and slick. Yes, it had made him a Hollywood darling (and very rich). But the skill set inherent in designing fabulous clothes and showcasing them in high-glam, high-voltage runway presentations to an insider audience (the celebrity front-row obsession not yet in full flower, and the Internet and social media–fueled madness not yet a factor) would hardly translate to the stuff of celluloid glory. Right?
Wrong. Very wrong. Ford’s exquisite film debut, A Single Man, adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel of the same name, opens on December 11 after making the worldwide rounds of film festivals: Venice, Toronto, Tokyo, London and, in November, Los Angeles, where it closed the American Film Institute Festival.
In New York briefly before heading to London for the festival there, Ford greets a visitor in the upstairs salon of his ultrachic Madison Avenue men’s boutique, his jacketless physique even more svelte than usual, thanks to 12 pounds shed when he stopped drinking for no particular reason six months ago. Yet he proclaims that loss’s full impact is temporarily tempered. “Flannel,” he offers in his blandly sensual baritone, pointing to his shirt, “adds five pounds.” That keen visual acuity, which registers and judges every nuance, every pound, plus or minus; every smooth, Botox-immobilized brow, as well as every shoulder line, heel height, room decor and background haze, may reasonably go a long way in creating a visually expressive film. And so it did. A Single Man is a pleasure to behold. Gorgeously rendered interiors capture the characters’ personalities and torment—George’s glass house is appointed with anal precision; Charley’s living room challenges her daily to keep up with its midcentury glam (the film is set in the early Sixties). A mournful beauty permeates even the dreadful scene depicting Jim’s fatal car crash.
Yet most surprising about the film is its subtlety and poignant, introspective emotional tenor. “There is a good deal of my soul, if one has a soul, in that film,” Ford says. “I’ve never shown that side of myself.”
In adapting the book, Ford cowrote the screenplay with David Scearce. The film presents a day in the life of college professor George, played brilliantly by Colin Firth, who struggles to hold his life together after the sudden death months before of his lover of 16 years, Jim (Matthew Goode). Julianne Moore portrays George’s friend Charley, a gorgeously turned out, hard-drinking matron on the precipice of decline, who longs to rekindle the brief romance the two shared many years before. The film premiered in September at the Venice Film Festival, where it garnered a 10-minute standing ovation, the best actor prize for Firth (now the subject of major Oscar buzz) and lavish praise for its neophyte director. “Tom Ford gets it spectacularly right,” wrote Screen International. “An impressive helming debut,” offered Variety. And from the Times Online: “A thing of heart-stopping beauty…. Tom Ford is the real deal.”