Tom Ford on Consumerism, Nocturnal Animals and Spirituality
Image: Amy Adams in Nocturnal Animals
“I love fashion … it moves and it’s quick, but it also felt impermanent. I really wanted to direct film. It’s the ultimate design… A beautiful dress can be incredible looking, but years later you can see that dress in a museum and it’s lost that power… whereas with film you’re crying, laughing, you’re emoting with these people. It’s forever,” Ford muses at his NY Times Talk during a recent wave of press for his newly released Nocturnal Animals.
As a fashion designer meets film director, Ford has channeled his unique point of view and creativity across a number of mediums this year – from screen and script, to dress and business models – with an adept fluidity. Whether it’s participating in the new wave of ‘see now buy now’ shows at NYFW or showing up at Venice Film Festival and swiping the Grand Jury Prize, Ford now straddles these two industries and has something to say about both of them: the permanence of one, the impermanence of the other, and, it seems, the spiritual elements of both – and how they relate to desire, aspiration, self-esteem and purpose.
“A beautiful dress can be incredible looking, but years later you can see that dress in a museum and it’s lost that power… whereas with film you’re crying, laughing, you’re emoting with these people. It’s forever.”
In Nocturnal Animals, Amy Adams’ character Susan has reached the dizzying heights of the rarified art world elite and yet, and as we’ve heard a thousand times in life and fiction, the top is empty and fails to offer the trappings of happiness it projects. She’s lonely. Her fashion forward wardrobe and painted face – all smoky eyes and plum lips reminiscent of many a Tom Ford campaign (think the red-headed Sophie Dahl in his YSL Opium ad) – merely represents the fragile shell of a hollow interior. As Ford notes, “She is dead inside even though the outside looks flawless.” Susan’s brokenness IRL is heightened as the story unfolds – and is mirrored by a particularly violent fiction novel that her ex-husband (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) pens as a cipher for the breakdown of their marriage.
“Loyalty is something very important to me and so I chose to set the story against the backdrop of our throwaway culture where we don’t just throw things away, we very often throw people away and things… if things get too difficult we divorce them, or we fire them.”
“I have neglected the spiritual side of life and I can relate to [Susan].” Ford continues…”When you write a character you can’t help but write yourself into it.” As an individual better known for shaving logos into the pubic hair of his models, revolunizing the legacy of fashion houses with his brilliantly distinctive eye, and catalyzing a wave of consumer desire, it’s an introspective, learned comment. Things have clearly shifted in his point of view, making way for a different kind of desire – a desire for permanence and loyalty. He continues,
“The center of [Nocturnal Animals] is about finding people that you love and hanging on to them. And this woman doesn’t hang on to that person. Loyalty is something very important to me and so I chose to set the story against the backdrop of our throwaway culture where we don’t just throw things away, we very often throw people away and things… if things get too difficult we divorce them, or we fire them. We throw people away. And I’m not someone who does that. That, for me, was something I wanted to say.”
Given his involvement in the fashion landscape, it’s impossible not to link Ford’s talk of throwaway culture with the wider conversation taking place about the nature of consumerism today, of luxury brands re-assessing their customer base and trying to reach new ones via social influencers; of political climes impacting shopping habits (think consumer tourism post-Brexit), of the aggressive nature of fast fashion and the opposing desire for slow, sustainable fashion and lean closets, as well as the rise of direct to consumer brands with middle-men-lacking price tags. It’s the Tinder swipe-right-age, an era where definitions of loyalty are changing and sometimes thin on the ground, for both personal effects and people.
Nocturnal Animals, as a self-enclosed movie, is brilliant in itself, but you often can’t watch films in a vacuum and this is one example where you really have to consider the source. It’s a call to lift our heads above the parapets, to reassess what we see as aspiration, to see the brokenness in surface living, to chase after character and soul, and to value loyalty in a more-often-than-not disposable culture.