Next Step: Do Better

Tom Ford Interview London
Earlier today I listened to a podcast of a conversation between Tom Ford and Kinvara Balfour hosted by Apple in its Apple Store, Regent Street, London# [hat tip Om Malik].

It was a good example of the art of the interview thanks to the two ingredients necessary to make a good conversation:

  1. A subject that has done interesting things, and has an intriguing point of view — Tom Ford meets both criteria in spades
  2. A set of questions that demonstrate the interviewer is interested in exploring some of those projects and has a certain point of view — Kinvara Balfour is prepared and skilled on both counts

For this alone, the 40-minute plus video (first 6:47) and questions podcast is worth attention and time. Some other nuggets in there are worth teasing out with  my own comments for the importance they play in modern culture and storytelling.

  • some of the most important moments for style and glamor, even down to things people have said to each other happen not in real life — they happen in film; this is consistent with the teachings on screenplay writing of Robert McKee in Story, a book I treasure. Ford himself directed a movie, A Single Man#.
  • everyone should experience being an intern in the physical sense of being hands-on learning vs. just wanting to be a star from the get-go — if you're clever today you can get yourself out in the world through social media and become a star. Everyone should clean floors, pick up pins, run errands… because you do learn so much about people and what it takes to get things done. It also teaches humility in addition to training you to observe.
  • fashion in the eighties when he got started in NYC was very business oriented — a bad collection would get you escorted out of the building. So you wanted to make sure it never happened to you and got very good at telling what would sell and what would not. Merchandizing the collection as you are literally building it. This is the bread and butter of learning by example, by watching others succeed and fail based upon their work.
  • which then makes fashion a commercial endeavor and an artistic endeavor at the same time. However, Ford does not consider himself an artist like Alexander McQueen was, for example. Making the film, A Single Man, was a purely artistic endeavor and if you saw the movie or intend to watch it, you will see a superb Colin Firth along with a superb set arranged by the Mad Men crew.
  • the lesson in A Single Man is so human — the man realizes how powerless he is and it is such a paradox and the story is timeless at the same time because he comes to peace with the world and understands his place in the world and really has that great epiphany that some of us have sometimes for just a second when you feel that you understand everything and are connected to the world. He has learned the lesson of life.
  • life is fleeting — there are moments, and then we lose them because of the noise and the frenetic chatter of life. It's very hard to feel peace in a city with all the distractions of culture. This is interesting because Ford is a creator of culture through fashion and style.
  • on doing his own photography, there is another mention of learning by watching great photograhers and what they do with the lighting, which is key. On the subject of lighting, one of the most accomplished painters in my art learning experience, Caravaggio#, aka Michelangelo Merisi, used his main character's eyes and light on the canvas to tell the story and direct attention. Directing attention is something we are all becoming experienced at when using social networks for a while. I had the pleasure of seeing four of Caravaggio's original paintings in Rome, Vienna, and at MoMA.
  • to create a brand with character and a personality is a dictatorship. It does not mean you do not listen to others, you do. However, you have to weigh input and make the decision. A subset of this point is the pros and cons of thinking that just because we can talk about so many topics thanks to the availability of information, we can also create them.
  • how we go through periods of acceleration and consolidation and getting to a certain maturity stage we become aware of our own mortality and of taking moments to enjoy life. Acceleration gets us places and sometimes we get to feel those moments later, looking back. I believe this is what we mean when we talk about connecting the dots in retrospect. With experience, we know to savor more what happens now.
  • claiming things you work hard on by publishing with your name on it. I do believe in the power of putting your name on things from an accountability standpoint.
  • from the Q&A part starting at minute 27:45 a question about whether multi-brand stores will go away now that people go to monogrammed stores. This is interesting to me because I am seeing so many brand starting to go direct online by building digital commerce properties and strategies that often run parallel to selling through channel. We see that with sports brands like Nike, beauty brands that also sell through Sephora, for example, and at different ends of the customer segment spectrum, too. Is there room for both?
  • an insight on buying things that look good online and how they may not look good in person, or how it may change our taste to fit the new model. Ford likes to design with black and black is a color that does not look as good online, for example. Black fabric to him means sculpture, texture, and shape — all very hard to convey on screen.

What drives Ford is the compulsion to fulfill his destiny. As for the next step in an already remarkable career: do better.

Update: during my run this morning I remembered I had written about a fashion star before — marketers and the fashion design business. Gianfranco Ferre' was a favorite.


Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effects on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.

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