Tom Ford has come early to rearrange the furniture.

He thinks that the already stylish room in the hottest new private club in town, the San Vicente Bungalows, could be even more captivating. So a team of eight club staffers gets busy under his direction, pulling a potted plant from the terrace for one corner and setting up two dozen glowing amber votive candles.

Mr. Ford himself redoes the white flowers, plucking out the roses and leaving in the ranunculus, because he doesn’t like mixed blooms.

The Murphy bed he can do nothing about.

As I enter, the designer is lost in thought, still fantasizing about redoing the room in his own preferred palette, draping chocolate brown velvet on the walls.

Everything in life can always be more sensual and beautiful, if you think about it. And Mr. Ford is always thinking about it.

From the time he was big enough to push furniture, at 6 years old, he was rearranging it in his house, sometimes swapping his for his sister’s. And giving his mother critiques on her hair and shoes.

And that’s why being Tom Ford is awful, in a way.

He always sees what’s wrong. And you can’t help but feel bad for him because you know his flawless flaw detector is always on.


“I am a hyper-hyper Virgo,” he said. “Perfectionist, anal-retentive, supposedly. Seemingly uptight, seemingly aloof. We’re definitely homebodies also. We love the home.” (Or in his case, six.)

Mr. Ford has been known to go to a movie in the middle of the day wearing a suit, and to make hospital corners with other people’sslipcovers.

“I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse, but he actually can make things better,” said the actress Rita Wilson, a friend. “He’s not afraid to say you need to cut three inches off your hair or lose weight.”

Even on vacations in the tropics or river rafting, she said, Mr. Ford looks eerily perfect. He used to tailor white T-shirts he bought at La Rinascente in Milan, but now he wears his own brand. “The cut of the sleeve has to be just right if you want your biceps to look right,” he said.

In 2003, as the creative director of Gucci, he personally shaved a “G” in a model’s pubic hair for an ad, adding definition with an eyebrow pencil.

Lisa Eisner, who has done jewelry collaborations with Mr. Ford and inspired the Alessia character in his 2016 film, “Nocturnal Animals,” said that he doesn’t expect everyone to be as persnickety as he is.

“At Graydon Carter’s wedding, I drank way too much and ran out to go to the bathroom and got sick on his shoes — really good Tom Ford shoes,” she recalled. “He just laughed and wiped it off.”

And his friends praise his fierce loyalty

Ms. Wilson recalled that after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2015, when she had to present at the Tonys feeling vulnerable because “you have had part of your body removed,” Mr. Ford designed her a beautiful dress to wear that “made my shape look like a normal shape. And he did it with such sensitivity, generosity and love.”

Mr. Ford did not check his phone during the three hours we spent together. He has perfect posture and lovely Southern manners and stands up when you return to the table from the bathroom. His voice, as one fan wrote in a YouTube comment, sounds like what melted chocolate tastes like.

Admiring the votives’ golden aura, I confessed that I’m obsessed with lighting and have been known to unscrew bulbs in restaurant booths or flip off lights at parties.

“Oh, I do that,” Mr. Ford said. “At Tower Bar, if you go to my table, the corner table at the back, there are these overhead spots and on mine it’s blacked out, because I told them, ‘You have to get rid of that spot or I’m not going to come here. No overhead lights.’”

Jeff Klein, Mr. Ford’s friend who is the hotelier behind both the bungalows and the Sunset Tower hotel where the Tower Bar is, called an electrician to put in a special switch for Mr. Ford’s table, which can be flipped off when he’s on his way.

“Why, oh my God, overhead light,” Mr. Ford continued, warming to the subject, “where your brow is going to create shadow right there, your nose is going to create a shadow like this, you look like hell, you look like you have no hair, even if you have a lot of hair. Nobody looks good in overhead lighting.

“That’s why I don’t go to Barry and Diane’s lunch party,” he confided, referring to one of the most coveted invitations in Hollywood, on Oscar weekend at the Coldwater Canyon mansion of Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg. “I don’t like the middle of the day. Take a picture at noon, anywhere in the world. You’re going to look like hell — hell.Everybody looks like hell. Unless you’re 18, maybe, or under. Even then you don’t look your best. I like daylight, but not to go out in public.”

Painfully Shy

Mr. Ford cloaks himself in black, planted a black garden in London of black tulips and black calla lilies, contemplates death constantly and plans on designing a black sarcophagus. He is 57 but for decades has not seemed to get any older. And he’s wearing Beau de Jour (one of 39 Tom Ford fragrances), a scent meant to evoke the allure of Cary Grant’s neck.

I told him that all this makes him a member of my favorite cult: sexy vampires.

His face lit up. “A vampire cape was one of the first things I got when I could tell my mother to make something for me, and it was black satin on the outside and red satin on the inside,” he said. “And I had the vampire teeth and I had the LP with the music from ‘Dark Shadows.’ I was obsessed and I wanted to be a vampire because vampires are sexy. They don’t age. Talk about seductive. I’m not talking about Nosferatu, you know. But vampires were usually rich, they lived in a fabulous house or castle. Wore black. Vampires are great.”

Ms. Eisner demurred: “Tom smells too good to be a vampire.”

She said that those who know Mr. Ford simply through the famous shots of him with naked models and actresses probably think he’s “a sex pervert, someone who thinks about sex 24-7. Nope, he’s not that guy at all. He’s very loyal to his friends. Very married.”

Richard Buckley, Mr. Ford’s husband since 2013, confirmed that the facade of gleaming black lacquer is deceiving.

“The one misconception I think most people have of Tom is that he is some kind of press whore who loves to have his picture taken,” said Mr. Buckley, a longtime fashion journalist with whom Mr. Ford had a coup de foudre during an elevator ride 32 years ago.

“He is, and always has been, painfully shy,” Mr. Buckley said. “He did acting when he was in his early 20s, so he is able to ‘turn on’ for interviews.” Referring to their 6-year-old son, he added: “And Jack has never been photographed. In London, we have a court injunction to keep any newspaper or magazine from running pictures of him. In Los Angeles, there is a law.”

(The designer takes Jack — who already prefers black despite drawers filled with colorful clothes — every day to school, where “the mothers have to see Tom Ford looking great at 8 in the morning while they look like hell,” an amused Ms. Eisner noted.)

Mr. Buckley, 70, said dryly that their lives are not “all champagne and caviar,” opening up about his nightmarish struggle with the aftereffects of radiation for the throat cancer for which he had surgery for in 1989, three years after the men became involved.

“Tom has seen me through so much, from throat cancer to my brother and mother dying 48 hours apart, to more bouts of pneumonia than I can count,” Mr. Buckley said.

Mr. Ford made his husband gray merino wool turtleneck dickeys with keyhole slits for his tracheotomy tube, and, for formal events, a black silk scarf with slits.

“Tom is actually quite good at sewing,” Mr. Buckley said. (These days, a designer need not be.)

Maureen Dowd

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