Tom Ford dishes on dressing celebrities and Kate: "She knows who she is"

From longtime friend Gwyneth Paltrow to style chameleon Rihanna, Tom Ford is no stranger to dressing famous figures - but there’s still one icon he hasn’t had the pleasure of seeing in his clothes: the Duchess of Cambridge, née Kate Middleton.

“She’s a beautiful woman, she’s smart and I think she’s doing an incredible job… Of course I’d like to dress her," said the boundary-pushing fashion designer during a rare and candid interview – of which HELLO! Fashion has an exclusive preview.

Tom Ford opened up in the rare interview

Speaking to presenter Tania Bryer as part of The CNBC Conversation, the 53-year-old revealed that he knows Kate “to say ‘hello’ to” and thinks that when it comes to style, “she knows who she is”.

With clients including Rihanna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lawrence, Tom has never had any trouble with getting celebrity seals of approval – and he prides himself on never having paid a celebrity to wear his designs.

“I haven’t given a celebrity any money,” he said. “I’m happy about that because it means they’re responding, they’re wanting to wear the clothes. Celebrities are very, very important.

“I try to dress people who I admire, who I respect. And I’ve been very fortunate with that.”

Tom counts Rihanna as one of his celebrity clients

As for some of his favourite celebrities that he’s dressed? “Julianne Moore – who I really hope wins the Oscar this year,” he said. “Gwyneth Paltrow, too – we’ve known each other for twenty years, I dressed her back in the mid 90s!”

Despite never endorsing a celebrity to wear his clothes, his name is known internationally – something that was helped by Jay Z releasing a song titled ‘Tom Ford’ in 2013.

“It was wild!” Tom said of the honour. “He emailed me when he was working on it and said ‘I can’t wait for you to hear it’.

“When I first saw it performed in a stadium of 60,000 people and my name flashing across this gigantic screen, it was very strange… It made me just want to crawl under a rock. I’m a very, very shy, private person and when you hear an entire audience shouting ‘Tom Ford’, it’s very strange!”

After parting ways with the Gucci group in 2004 following disagreements over control of the business, Tom learnt the hard way who his friends really were.

“There were people that just stopped talking to me,” he said. “It wasn’t that they just stopped talking to me, it was just that they didn’t really call me, didn’t really return my calls. It teaches you… I knew it, but maybe I was a little surprised that it really was true.”

He has been dressing his friend Gwyneth Paltrow since the mid-90s

Aware of the fickle nature of the fashion industry, Tom is pleased that fellow designer John Galliano, who was dismissed from Dior in 2011 after making controversial remarks, is making a return to fashion.

“I’m happy he’s been given a second chance,” he said. “He’s a terrific designer, a real true designer. This is his life, so I’m happy about that.”

Tom made headlines in 2009 when he revealed that he had been sent some less-than-positive letters from his predecessor and rival Yves Saint Laurent.

Tom took over Yves Saint Laurent’s eponymous fashion house in 1999 when parts of it were sold to the Gucci group, where he was creative director.

And the designer says that while the pair started as friends, the relationship soon soured — to the point that Mr Saint-Laurent accused Tom of ruining his reputation.

“At the very beginning, we were quite friendly,” he said. “I believe that when I started to deviate from what he felt was appropriate for the house and we started to become successful and I began to get a lot of press, he didn’t really like it much.

Posing with fashionista Alexa Chung earlier this year

“I do have some letters in his hand. I remember one line was ‘In thirteen minutes, you’ve destroyed 40 years of my work’ or ‘my life’s work’. But they’re quite incredible and I’m happy to have them.

“If I live long enough that anyone cares I might put them in a book, because they’re beautifully written and very… harsh.”

While Tom is able to talk about the feud with ease now, he revealed that it certainly affected him at the time.

“It was hurtful because I had tremendous respect for Yves Saint Laurent,” he said. “I still do. He was a great, great designer and someone who I admired and someone who I think all of us – in contemporary fashion – still reference.

“And when you have someone like that who you’re friendly with, you want them to love what you’re doing. So of course it was hurtful. It was very hurtful, but I’m tough and I believed in what we were doing and so I continued on.”

Tom was interviewed by Tania Bryer

Leaving Gucci in 2004 was a “very hard” time for the designer, who, after focusing solely on his work for so long, suddenly realised he was “fairly spiritually dead”.

“I had worked so hard for financial gain and for a lot of other things that I had neglected the spiritual side of my life,” he said.

“I think I had neglected friends, I had neglected family, I probably neglected Richard [his husband] because I was so focused on work. Now, I’m able to have both. I have a wonderful family and a wonderful son and so I feel quite balanced.”

Speaking about the tough time, which he refers to as his “mid-life crisis”, Tom revealed that he turned to alcohol.

“I had always drank a little too much – I had the tendency to do that and I really slipped into a dark abyss after I left Gucci.

“And drinking doesn’t help – it is a depressant and it’s a downwards spiral.”

Taking a bow after his show in September 2014

The people close to him managed to recognise his problem, however, and swooped in to help.

“I had a lot of friends who alerted me to the fact that I was not particularly well and I was able to pull myself back together and go back to work.”

The fashion maestro then started up the Tom Ford brand, in 2005. He began with fragrance cosmetics and eyewear before recognising a niche in the market and launching a menswear line.

“It was a relief to go back to work,” he said. “And then I realised that I really missed women’s Clothes and I decided it was time to do that again.”

He now operates his hugely successful brand out of London and is gearing up for his Autumn/Winter 2015 fashion show, which will take place in Los Angeles on Friday 20 February.

The 30 minute EXCLUSIVE interview will premiere CNBC in the UK/Europe on 19th February 2015 at 10.00pm GMT and video excerpts will be available online at CNBC.com.

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